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Published: 14 Nov, 2016

Researchers launch annual climate change and health report

NEWS On 14 November, the Lancet Countdown was launched as a global research initiative covering 16 organisations, including Umeå University, in collaboration. The objective is to compile scientifically based knowledge into annual reports to speed up action to minimise potentially catastrophic health risks due to climate change.

The new initiative Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change was launched at the ongoing UN climate summit, COP22, in Marrakech. The initiative is enabled in collaboration with the journal the Lancet and the Wellcome Trust foundation, which supports health and climate research. As an international and multidisciplinary research initiative, Lancet Countdown is now joining 48 leading experts from the Umeå Centre for Global Health Research at the Unit for Epidemiology and Global Health with 15 other research institutes, to follow and report on climate change and how it affects human health.

The Lancet Countdown will annually report in the medical journal The Lancet. The Lancet Countdown will also collaborate with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in order to create synergies and spread scientific output.

Maria Nilsson, who in joint effort with research colleague Peter Byass at the Unit for Epidemiology and Global Health, is co-author of the Lancet Countdown, states that the annual reports are intended to inform and provide decision-makers with basis to act more swiftly and with a more powerful policy against climate change. 

The relationship between health and climate change will be investigated through careful analyses of relevant themes on a global, regional, national and local level. The current state of research and the initiative are described in further detail in the initial report published on 14 November 2016. The main themes that the Lancet Countdown will focus on are:

  • Health impacts of climate hazards
  • Health resilience and adaptation
  • Health co-benefits of climate change mitigation  
  • Economics and finance
  • Political and broader engagement
Maria Nilsson.
Maria Nilsson, researcher at the Unit for Epidemiology and Global Health at Umeå University.
Photo: Ulrika Bergfors.

“One of the greatest challenges in the ongoing global climate crisis is to convey how urgent and critical this collective situation is and how widespread the need to act forcefully is,” says Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the Lancet Countdown.

The Lancet Countdown fulfils an important need to annually present scientific proof that carefully follows the development and effects of climate change on health and what the advantages of acting rapidly can be.

“A report will be published in conjunction with the UN climate conference every year to increase political awareness, speed up progress and show how decision-makers fulfil their climate promises and commitments,” says Maria Nilsson.

The links between climate change and health are becoming increasingly evident. The Lancet Countdown is based upon research output that was published in a 2015 report, the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, where Maria Nilsson was one of the main editors, and Peter Byass contributed as co-author expert on Global Health. The research Commission report concluded that climate change is constituting a potentially catastrophic health hazard for humans and can at the same time be the 21st century’s greatest opportunity to improve global health if only the right measures are taken.

Learnings on the positive health effects of climate work

A deeper knowledge base on how health and climate trends are interlinked will elucidate the advantages of acting forcefully. Every day, an estimated 18,000 people die from air pollution, which makes that one of the singlehandedly biggest environmentally related health hazards. The World Bank estimates that air pollution costs global economy USD 225 billion per year due to related lost labour income.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from vehicular traffic and energy from fossil fuels make up for the majority of air pollution emissions and are also the determining factors behind climate change. The health and financial benefits from working on reducing and adapting to climate change is a driving force for action, since climate changes take longer before they are fully noticed.

The Lancet Countdown complements other initiatives such as the UN Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, and the climate research they present in a report every five to seven years. The Lancet Countdown also devolves at a critical point in time for international climate collaborations and follows after the ratification of the COP21 Paris Agreement and the UN new global targets for sustainable development (2030 Sustainable Development Goals). The Lancet Countdown will collaborate with the World Health Organization in order to follow each country’s work towards achieving Paris Agreement objectives and mobilising increased support for more ambitious undertakings.

Academics and policy experts are now invited by the Lancet Countdown to participate in a three-month long consultation process revolving around the objective and focus of the research initiative. Events will take place in London in the UK, Marrakech in Marocco, Lima in Peru, Kampala in Uganda, Beijing in China and San Francisco in the US.

Read more about the Lancet Countdown on its web page

For more information, please contact:

Maria Nilsson, Epidemiology and Global Health, the Umeå Centre for Global Health Research, Umeå UniversityPhone: +46 70-349 71 74

Peter Byass, Epidemiology and Global Health, the Umeå Centre for Global Health Research, Umeå UniversityPhone: +46 76-787 30 07

The following research institutes participate in the Lancet Countdown:

Editor: Anna Lawrence