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Published: 2024-05-13 Updated: 2024-05-14, 13:21

Emergency: climate change threatens health in Europe

NEWS On 13 May, the 2024 European report "Lancet Countdown on Climate change and health" was published. It reports on a range of adverse effects in Europe of climate change on human health, on slow action in terms of transition and adaptation of society, and on the opportunities to protect and improve health that are being wasted as a result.

The report describes large, already existing health impacts in Europe through heat-related morbidity and deaths from exposure to air pollution, increased exposure to extreme weather and climate events, and an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases.

The time when people were exposed to heatwaves was 1.28 billion person-days in the period 2012-2021, compared to 650 million person-days in the period 2000-2009. This is a relative increase of 97 percent.

“Heat-related deaths are estimated to have increased in most of Europe. The risk is particularly high for the elderly and people suffering from a chronic disease, for example,” says Maria Nilsson, chair of the Lancet Countdown in Europe and member of the Lancet Countdown’s global steering group, at the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health at Umeå University.

"The trends show a southern Europe that is more affected by forest fires, food insecurity, drought, mosquito and tick-borne diseases; infectious diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and parasites. In northern Europe, for example, there are increased risks from Vibrio, which can cause severe health outcomes such as severe health outcomes, and ticks that spread diseases such as Lyme disease and TBE," says Professor Jan Semenza at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, one of the researchers who worked on the report.

The report reveals a lack of measures to protect citizens from the effects of climate change. Many European countries have large emissions of greenhouse gases and still provide net subsidies for fossil fuels – despite knowledge of how it harms human health.

Urgent action is necessary to reduce climate-impacting emissions. To meet the recommendation of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on net-zero emissions by 2040, emissions from Europe's energy system should be reduced by about three times the current rate. If implemented, it will have a positive impact on health through cleaner air, better diets, reduced inequality and more vibrant cities.

The report is the second indicator report from the Lancet Countdown, which follows trends in health and climate change in Europe. The interdisciplinary collaboration between 69 researchers follows developments using more than 40 indicators, spanning 42 departments in academia and the UN. Umeå University is the only one in Sweden to participate in the work, with researchers working at the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health and at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine.