UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


No country immune to the health impacts of climate change – Lancet Countdown 2020

2 December 2020

The Lancet Countdown 2020 reports that all countries will see the impacts of climate change on health and a joined-up response with the COVID-19 pandemic can deliver not only better public health but a sustainable economy and environmental protection.

wildfire UK

The 5th annual Lancet Countdown on health and climate change has been released this week, calling for joined-up responses to Covid-19 and climate change to protect the health of the public.

Whilst Covid-19 has threatened our global health and brought the world to a standstill, the report shows that the threats of climate change to health have not only continued, but increased in recent years. The report calls for these converging crises to be tackled together with Covid-19 recovery aligned to climate change responses, with recovery plans committing to targets set out in the Paris Agreement. The report suggests such recovery plans could deliver a ‘triple win’ of better public health, a sustainable economy and environmental protection.

No country is immune

The report states that climate change is damaging health and disrupting livelihoods around the world now, illuminating with data that shows the impact of global rises in extreme heat is rising. 

Across the world 128 countries have reported increase in their population exposed to wildfires since the early 2000s. Data published shows that above-baseline days of heatwave exposure affecting over 65s have doubled and the rate of heat-related deaths in the over-65s has risen 54% in the last two decades, reaching 300,000 in 2018. It also suggests that heat is affecting productivity, with a record-equalling 302 billion hours of potential work hours lost to high temperatures in 2019, more than 100 billion more than in 2000. 

The report outlines that unless urgent action is taken now, the health impacts of climate change are set to worsen with health systems at risk of becoming overwhelmed. Only half of the countries surveyed had national health and climate plans, and only four with adequate funding. Moreover, less than half of surveyed countries had conducted vulnerability and adaptation assessments for health. 

Institute for Sustainable Resources Director Professor Paul Ekins said: 

UCL ISR contributed the indicators on Economics and Finance to this year’s Lancet Countdown, showing the health and economic losses of climate change and benefits from mitigation and the economics of the transition to zero-carbon economies. The news on both fronts is not good: losses have increased maredly in developing countries; the monetised value of global heat-related mortality in Europe was equal to the average income of 11 million of its citizens and 1.2% of regional gross national income; and 58 of the 72 countries reviewed were operating with a net negative carbon price in 2017. It seems that the undoubtedly greater public awareness on climate change issues has yet to be translated into effective climate policy.”

It's not all bad news

Health services in 86 countries are now connected with their equivalent meteorological services to assist in health adaptation planning. Closer to home, the UK health sector (responsible to 4-6% UK emissions) is taking steps to decarbonise; the NHS has committed to going net zero by 2040 - the world's first health system to make such a commitment. 

Authors from the Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources:

UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources
UCL Energy Institute
UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering

Photo credit: Neil Mark Thomas, Unsplash