Climate change is the most urgent and far-reaching environmental and social challenge facing humanity. On a global scale, it influences various sectors and reaches its maximum exponent in the area of health. Both for its direct effects (heat and cold waves, extreme weather events, floods and droughts) as well as the important indirect effects it causes, such as the increase in air pollution and aeroallergens, the increase in the frequency and intensity of fires, the changes in the distribution of infectious disease vectors, the reduced availability of water and food insecurity. This, in turn, causes climate shifts. It can be stated, without a doubt, that the climate crisis is a health crisis.
Climate change already represents a significant emerging threat to global public health and changes the way we need to look at protecting vulnerable populations. All populations are exposed to the negative health impacts caused by climate change, but there are circumstances that increase vulnerability, such as geographic location and socioeconomic inequalities. These two factors also inequities in health. The different incidence in the different regions, in people with different socioeconomic levels and the possibility of adapting to the changes produced will be essential to minimize the impacts on health derived from global warming.
Recently the report of the Working Group II on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability corresponding to the Sixth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC). This report highlights the immense impact that climate change has on our planet, as it approximately half of the world’s population lives in places that are highly vulnerable to its effects. The Mediterranean area is especially fragile.
“Health must be the basis for citizen mobilization”
In Spain, with high probability, the impacts that will have major health consequences. These will be: increasingly intense heat waves, an increase in the effects attributable to urban air pollution (including dust intrusions from the Sahara) and an increase in the frequency of forest fires and droughts. To do this, develop and develop adaptation plans to climate change in health It implies the geographical detection of vulnerabilities according to the degree of impact.
Going down to the local level is essential to adapt to the heterogeneous sociodemographic characteristics of each population and carry out risk assessments of impacts at a specific level in relation to their health factors.
The health approach in climate action
At an institutional level, the health approach must be included in all state, regional and local plans and strategies. must also make visible the numerous benefits that climate action has on the well-being of populationss, and prioritize climate interventions with the greatest health, social and economic benefits. Health must be the basis for citizen mobilization in relation to climate change. Citizens must be aware of the implications that climate change has on their health.
The goal is to put citizens at the center of transformative actions and who feel that environmental degradation affects, above all, their quality of life and their health, with the idea that there can be no healthy society without a healthy environment. The Citizen Assembly for Climate, a deliberative process in which 100 people chosen at random debate and agree on recommendations to deal with the climate emergency, is an example of this type of action.
“The war in Ukraine contributes to making visible the boost that renewable energies need”
In this sense, it should also increase the weight of environmental education in all sectors of society. Spending on environmental education and health education programs and activities related to the mitigation and adaptation of the population to the climate crisis must be increased.
Besides, integrated plans should be designed and developed that address the synergistic health impacts of different environmental factors that enhance the impacts of climate change (air pollution, temperature extremes, Saharan dust intrusions, droughts, forest fires) rather than being addressed individually.
This translates to prevention plans must be articulated that integrate the various factors that can simultaneously affect citizens. Prevention plans based on individual responses to joint problems are invalid. These prevention systems must be the immediate response to the alerts given by the bodies involved. Alerts don’t make sense. per se without prevention plans that support how to act in the face of these alerts through clearly established protocols.
“The scientific evidence is irrefutable: climate change poses a danger to the well-being of humanity”
must be done actions that allow adaptation to the expected impacts in relation to climate change. Actions based on science, which are known to be effective in minimizing these impacts: rehabilitation of buildings with increased thermal insulation (fight against energy poverty), promoting, in land management, solutions based on nature (redesign urban areas with an increase in green and blue areas) and promote more sustainable consumption, as well as strengthen primary care by making visible and promoting health assets.
key historical moment
The war in Ukraine contributes to making visible the boost that renewable energies need, but it can also lead us to go back again towards the use of fossil energies. In fact, the US has fueled unprecedented growth in oil production and many EU members are increasing their use of coal and subsidizing the use of gasoline and diesel with government aid.
You have to remember that, if we continue with the growing trend in emissions, global temperatures will exceed 2ºC which marks the limit of Paris Agreements. The limits are already being exceeded to deal with the situation; for some ecosystems it has already been done irreversibly. As the IPCC report points out, “the scientific evidence is irrefutable: climate change poses a danger to the well-being of humanity and to the health of the planet.
If joint and preventive global action on adaptation and mitigation is postponedwe will lose the small opportunity that we have to guarantee a livable and sustainable future for all the world, and that window will close soon”.
*** Cristina Linares is a researcher at the National School of Health of the Carlos III Health Institute and co-director of the Reference Unit on Climate Change, Health and Urban Environment. She is coordinator of the group of independent experts of the Citizen Assembly for Climate.
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