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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2023  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-3

Climate change and its health consequences: Weathering the storm

Dept of Community Medicine and Public Health, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Date of Submission18-Jul-2023
Date of Acceptance26-Jul-2023
Date of Web Publication21-Aug-2023

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Jai Prakash Narain
Narain Niwas, Next to Hotel Silver Moon, Shastri Nagar, Kullu 175101, Himachal Pradesh, India

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/JIMPH.JIMPH_13_23

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How to cite this article:
Narain JP. Climate change and its health consequences: Weathering the storm. J Integr Med Public Health 2023;2:1-3

How to cite this URL:
Narain JP. Climate change and its health consequences: Weathering the storm. J Integr Med Public Health [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Sep 21];2:1-3. Available from: http://www.jimph.org/text.asp?2023/2/1/1/384119

Each day, we see with growing concern an unprecedented increase in extreme weather events attributed to climate change. North India recently was witness to an unprecedented rainfall, resulting in utter devastation, which was attributed to the impact of global warming and climate change. In January 2023, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) confirmed that the past 8 years have been the warmest on record, and from mountain peaks to ocean depths, climate change continued its advance in 2022.[1] Clearly, the global temperatures are likely to continue to surge in the future. This has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to issue warnings that the global warming is likely to have serious health consequences and called for resilient and sustainable health systems to respond to climate change.[2]

  Why is Addressing Climate Change Critical? Top

Climate change touches every aspect of our lives, from the air we breathe and the food we eat to the growing risk of natural disasters and the emergence of infectious agents capable of causing epidemics and pandemics. Rising atmospheric temperatures or global warming clearly is indeed a defining challenge of the twenty-first century!

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 2023, humans are responsible for virtually all global heating over the last 200 years. The rate of temperature rise in the last half century is at the highest level, as is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.[3] The impact of climate change is all too visible in the form of extreme weather events occurring in greater frequency as well as intensity. The glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate, sea level is rising, floods, cloudbursts, landslides, droughts, and heat waves are occurring in increasing frequency and intensity. These not only threaten health security but also energy and food security especially in low- and middle-income countries.

For example, with warming of the planet, the glaciers in the Himalayas too continue to melt rapidly leading to the formation of glacial lakes and attendant risk of lake breach sweeping away village after village downstream. Studies show that the number of glacial lakes and water bodies is increasing fast in India, China, and Nepal. These pose a huge threat to seven Indian states and Union Territories, of which six are Himalayan states/Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh.[4] This phenomenon is associated also with the sea level rise, which poses a grave existential danger to small island nations and coastal areas.[5] Melting of glaciers and sea level rise—both reached record levels in 2022.[1]

In addition, climate change has been responsible for an increase in infectious diseases such as diarrhoeal diseases and mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue, as well as heat stroke and cardiovascular diseases.[6],[7] With global warming, the disease vectors are expanding geographically and moving to higher altitudes with vector-borne diseases being reported from areas where these have never been reported before.

The disease outbreaks and climate-related health emergencies occurring at their highest levels are not only a threat to population health but are overstretching the already fragile health infrastructure in many middle- and low-income countries. According to UNICEF, approximately 1 billion children are at an “extremely high risk” of the impacts of the climate crisis.[8] These children face acute hunger and millions of children under 5 years old face acute malnutrition. Poor access to essential services such as water, sanitation, and healthcare threatens their health, education, development, survival, and future.

In fact, the IPCC in its latest report has expressed grave concern that the world is now 1.15°C warmer than it was before the industrial revolution.[3] It also lamented that the countries are not doing enough to address climate change, meaning that there is no sense of urgency to tackle the climate crisis as promised during the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) held in Paris, 2015. It is imperative that all countries revise their nationally determined targets if we are to keep temperatures rise to 1.5° and achieve net zero emission by 2050.

Climate change is fueled by heat-trapping greenhouse gases, resulting from burning of fossil fuels such as wood, oil, and petroleum. While this is not a new phenomenon, the risk to humanity is rising continuously. The alarm bells have for long been ringing loud and clear as the risk to health is expected to increase many fold in the future.

  Strategies and Opportunities Top

The cruel irony is that while developed countries and China are responsible primarily and historically for causing climate change through unabated greenhouse emissions, the impact is disproportionately being felt by developing countries of Africa and South Asia which least contributed to climate change in the first place![9] The polluting countries responsible principally for causing climate change must be held accountable under the concept of “shared but differentiated responsibility” and made to pay for the losses and damages suffered by the developing countries due to their climate-related actions.

India in particular remains highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, not only because of the geographic and climatic conditions and the large number of poor people but also due to the weak and already overstretched healthcare system.[10] The heavy rains, cloud bursts, floods, and perennial drought conditions in parts of the country lead to crop failure, economic losses, and human suffering.

What can be done to combat climate change? First and foremost, all countries and individuals must recognize that climate change is a real danger and is, in fact, caused by human activities. And that it is not only an environmental issue or energy issue but also a defining public health problem. Having included it as a priority agenda item of the ongoing G20 summit, India during its presidency has a historic opportunity to play a pivotal role in shaping the global agenda on climate change—by advancing innovative strategies and fast-tracking measures for the reduction in carbon emissions and by calling to enhance national preparedness and health systems to respond to the consequences of climate change.

It has, at the same time, an unprecedented opportunity to provide a forum for sharing and showcasing its own progress under the theme of “one World, one Family, one Future,” which is in line with the ancient Indian philosophy of “Vasudeva Kutumbakam.”

There are three main strategies to combat climate change, namely reducing greenhouse emissions, strengthening community and health system resilience, and compensating developing countries for loss and damages.

At policy level, India’s focus is to reduce greenhouse emissions by transitioning from fossil fuel to renewable energy such as solar, wind, and hydropower, and by ushering in green technology. India has so far made a remarkable progress in this direction and the target set of 50% of energy from nonfossil sources by 2030 is likely to be achieved by 2027, 3 years ahead of schedule.[11] India is also the only country that has delivered on the promise made at COP21 in Paris.

To give a flip to solar energy, India along with France, has co-founded the International Solar Alliance, which has more than 120 countries as members.[12] In addition, India is taking major steps toward green hydrogen usage as a renewable energy source, building charging infrastructure for electric cars, and manufacturing ethanol from agricultural waste as a biofuel and using it to blend with petrol or ethanol blending.

At an individual level, the government expects the citizens too to contribute in reducing gas emissions through lifestyle changes, and by planting more trees. In this regard, through Mission LiFE or Lifestyle for Environment, the government envisages to motivate individuals and groups to take actions on a daily basis for environmental protection and combating climate change.[13] Among seven themes for action include activities such as save energy, save water, adopt a healthy lifestyle, and saying no to plastic.

Apart from reducing emissions, priority must be accorded to adaptation or strengthening national capacities to cope with the impact of climate change by strengthening community resilience and strengthening health systems and programs, and protecting those most vulnerable in the society such as women, children, and elderly. India has the responsibility to flag and pursue, vigorously, the pressing issues such as technology transfer, ensuring adequate financing for climate action, and need for strengthening health system in all countries. Moreover, the western countries and China must be held accountable for having historically contributed to climate change since the industrial revolution in the 1950s.

In conclusion, climate change is a defining public health challenge of the twenty-first century affecting all nations on the planet. Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1°C above preindustrial era. The problem, therefore, must be tackled with a sense of urgency; the gravity of the climate crisis demands proactive action both in scale and speed. Every country and sector must resolve to work collectively in a spirit of partnership, cooperation, and in areas of their comparative advantage or respective capabilities. As G20 president, India has an historic opportunity to take a leadership role in persuading all countries to seriously and urgently address climate change and its impact especially on countries of the global south, in particular those most vulnerable to it!

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

WMO. State of the Global Climate in 2022. Available from: https://public.wmo.int/en/our-mandate/climate/wmo-statement-state-of-global-climate. [Last accessed on 23 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 1
WHO. WHO Issues Argent Calls for Global Climate Action to Create Resilient and Sustainable Health Systems. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/24-05-2023-wha76-strategic-roundtable-on-health-and-climate. [Last accessed on 24 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 2
IPCC. AR6 Synthesis Report Climate Change 2023: Summary for Policy Makers. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/syr/. [Last accessed on 27 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 3
Down to Earth. 2023. Available from: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/himalayan-plunder-3-million-indians-live-in-areas-that-can-be-swept-by-glacial-lake-floods-says-study-87593. [Last accessed on 23 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 4
WHO. Maldives: Leading the Way to Sustainable Environmental Health. Available from: https://www.who.int/southeastasia/news/feature-stories/detail/sustainable-environmental-health-maldives. [Last accessed on 29 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 5
Narain JP. Climate change brings natural disasters and disease. SciDev.net Oxford 19 Aug 2009. Available from: https://www.proquest.com/openview/dffaa0d0b794124e3bdd003fdb8a0bcd/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=5572320. [Last accessed on 30 May 2023].  Back to cited text no. 6
Peters A, Schneider A. Cardiovascular risks of climate change. Nat Rev Cardiol 2021;18:1-2.  Back to cited text no. 7
UNICEF. 2021. The Impacts of Climate Change Put Almost Every Child at Risk. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/stories/impacts-climate-change-put-almost-every-child-risk. [Last accessed on 28 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 8
United Nations. On the Frontlines of Climate Crisis, World’s Most Vulnerable Nations Suffer Disproportionately. Available from: https://www.un.org/ohrlls/news/frontline-climate-crisis-worlds-most-vulnerable-nations-suffer-disproportionately. [Last accessed on 24 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 9
Narain JP. Unravelling the health impact of climate change. Ind J Med Res 2016;143:1-3.  Back to cited text no. 10
The Hindu. 57% of Power Generated will be Via Renewable Sources by 2027: Central Electricity Authority. Available from: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/half-of-indias-electric-capacity-from-renewables-by-2027-cea/article66920304.ece. [Last accessed on 28 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 11
International Solar Alliance. CCAC Partner Since 2019. Available from: https://www.ccacoalition.org/en/partners/international-solar-alliance-isa. [Last accessed on 29 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 12
Government of India Mission. LiFE Lifestyle for Environment. Available from: http://missionlife-moefcc.nic.in. [Last accessed on 29 Jun 2023].  Back to cited text no. 13


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