New Delhi: A child born today will go on to live in a world that is over four degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times, says a new Lancet report on how climate change will impact human health from infancy to old age.
The research, conducted in collaboration with 35 institutions across the world, describes lifelong health complications that the next generation would suffer due to rising temperatures.
The study also highlights that the increase in daily population exposure to wildfires has been the highest in India — with over 21 million, between 2001-14 and 2015-18. Not only this, over 45 million more Indians were exposed to heatwaves in the past decade.
Meanwhile, households with air-conditioning between 2001 and 2016 has increased from 21 per cent to about 30 per cent globally. In India, the rise stood at 4 per cent while US and Japan saw a whopping 90 per cent.
People dying due to heatwave-related illnesses in the corresponding period (2001 to 2016) has only increased — from 16 per cent in 2000 to 23 per cent in 2016. In India, it was less than 10 per cent and 66 per cent in US and Japan.
It also shows how a record 220 million people above 65 were exposed to heatwaves in 152 countries in 2018.
Climate change & rise in infectious diseases
As temperatures rise, infants are likely to become more vulnerable to malnutrition. Food prices have been increasingly rising since global yield of food grains, including rice, wheat and maize, has declined in the past three decades.
Less access to nutritious food will then lead to stunted growth, weak immune systems and long-term developmental problems in babies.
“Children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of a changing climate. Their bodies and immune systems are still developing, leaving them more susceptible to disease and environmental pollutants,” said Nick Watts, executive director of The Lancet Countdown, which tracks public health effects of climate change.
The study also says how rising temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns will further lead to a rise in infectious diseases that children are particularly susceptible to. In the past 30 years, the number of climatically-suitable days for bacteria, which cause diarrhoeal disease, have doubled.
“The damage done in early childhood is persistent and pervasive, with health consequences lasting for a lifetime. Without immediate action from all countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, gains in well-being and life expectancy will be compromised, and climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation,” Watts further said.
The study comes at a time when young climate activists have taken to the streets to voice their demands for action against environmental degradation. There have been protests such as Fridays for Future, Global Climate Strike and Extinction Rebellion that saw participation by millions globally.
“We must listen to the millions of young people who have led the wave of school strikes for urgent action. It will take the work of 7.5 billion people currently alive to ensure that the health of a child born today isn’t defined by a changing climate,” said Stella Hartinger from Cayetano Heredia University in Peru, one of the co-authors of the study.
Cholera, dengue & strokes
Changing weather patterns are also creating favourable environments for cholera outbreaks, even in countries where the disease does not regularly occur.
Environmental degradation is making dengue the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne viral disease in the world. The report shows that 9 of the 10 most suitable years for transmission of dengue fever, on record, had occurred since 2000 and around half of the world’s population are now at risk.
The impact of air pollution will also worsen through adolescence. The toxic air that children breathe today is primarily driven by fossil fuels, and exacerbated by climate change. This is especially damaging to young people as their lungs are still developing. Any damage will lead to reduced lung function, worsening asthmatic conditions, and increasing risk of heart attacks and strokes.
As children progress into adulthood, extreme weather events will intensify further with severe floods, prolonged droughts, and wildfires, the report notes.
More frequent and longer heatwaves will redefine global labour capacity too, the report warns. In 2018, a potential 45 billion additional hours of work were lost due to extreme heat globally compared to 2000.