Summary of my talk at conference in Brussels on "Impact of climate change on public health" held on January 22nd in Brussels.
According to the best available scientific expertise, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), global climate change is already having a profound impact on human health in many parts of the world and it is highly probable that this trend will accelerate and worsen in the coming years. This is specially the case where climate stress creates explosive synergies with weak or failed states, ethnic tensions and stark social inequality that altogether are producing tens of millions of refugees around the world. Extreme events such as floods, heatwaves, droughts and major storms will no doubt increase even more in the near future. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, tick-borne diseases, cholera, diarrhoeal diseases and other infectious diseases will expand and spread to new regions as well as pests that negatively affect crop and plant life. Poor water quality caused by greater hydric scarcity, higher temperatures and urban crowding will be an even greater source of disease and death. Due to more difficult climactic conditions undernutrition and malnutrition are expected to increase significantly due to lower crop yields caused by droughts, soil erosion, pollution and deforestation, specially at lower latitudes. Poor urban air-quality that is already having a great impact on the health and life-spans of tens of millions will probably worsen unless radical measures are taken. According to the scientific experts of the IPCC adaptation to the multiple and combined public health impacts of climate change is often impossible: “These events can reduce the resilience of communities, affect vulnerable regions and localities, and overwhelm the coping capacities of most societies.” Within two or three decades it is probable that certain geographical regions will lose basic elements of habitability.
Overall, there exists a great moral contradiction between the very serious scientific warnings and the very weak global institutional measures taken for mitigation and adaptation. While the recent COP 21 Paris Agreement was a political success, the practical implications of the agreement are far from satisfactorily responding to the mitigation or adaptation needs of our societies with regards to the grave public health impacts of climate change. Only rapid and massive global action that includes an unprecedented North-South transfer and sharing of financial, human and technical resources can help reduce the intensity of catastrophic impacts on human health of climate related factors.
To increase the resilience of all our societies in face of climate change important changes are be needed in EU policy in the areas of international trade, development policy, intellectual property, agriculture, fishing and research. The current overarching policy priorities of economic growth at all costs, fierce competition and aggressive international trade objectives often enter into a frontal collision with any serious consideration of the public health impacts of climate change on a global level.
Theoretically, climate change is starting to be taken seriously on a global level, but judging by the scarce practical action taken to date we can conclude that the EU and most governments around the world still remain anchored in deep denial, a practical denialism.