World leaders are one in saying that climate change, the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, has become among the world’s greatest health risks.
They agree that while no one is safe from these risks, the people whose health is being harmed first and worst by the climate crisis are the people who contribute least to its causes, and who are least able to protect themselves and their families against it — people in low-income and disadvantaged countries and communities.
The climate crisis threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction, and to further widen existing health inequalities between and within populations.
We remember what President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said, in his address during the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York last month: “Climate change is the greatest threat affecting our nations and peoples. There is no other problem so global in nature that it requires a united effort, one led by the United Nations.”
Mr. Marcos lamented that further inaction would result in the extreme suffering of “least responsible” smaller nations such as the Philippines.
We hold the argument that the crisis, sweeping across the inhabited continents, severely jeopardizes the realization of universal health coverage in various ways – including by compounding the existing burden of disease and by exacerbating existing barriers to accessing health services, often at the times when they are most needed.
We understand more than 930 million people — around 12 percent of the world’s population — spend at least 10 percent of their household budget to pay for health care.
Experts add that climate change, sadly, is also undermining many of the social determinants for good health, like livelihoods, equality and access to health care and social support structures.
These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced persons, older populations, and those with underlying health conditions.
Although it is unequivocal that climate change affects human health, it remains challenging to accurately estimate the scale and impact of many climate-sensitive health risks.
But – if this is any short-term consolation – scientific advances progressively allow people to attribute an increase in morbidity and mortality to human-induced warming, and more accurately determine the risks and scale of these health threats.
We agree with experts that in the short- to medium-term, the health impacts of climate change will be determined mainly by the vulnerability of populations, their resilience to the current rate of climate change and the extent and pace of adaptation.
In the longer-term, the effects will increasingly depend on the extent to which transformational action is taken now to reduce emissions and avoid the breaching of dangerous temperature thresholds and potential irreversible tipping points.
The people must not blink against the climate change challenge.