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Study sounds alarm on climate change for future generations

15 November 2019 13:41

BEIJING. KAZINFORM - A child born today faces multiple and life-long health harm from climate change, growing up in a warmer world with risks of food shortages, infectious diseases, floods and extreme heat, a major global study has found, China Daily reports.

That child will experience a world that will be more than 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) warmer by age 71, which will threaten health at every stage of life, according to the study published in The Lancet medical journal on Wednesday.

The annual Lancet study — «Countdown on Health and Climate Change'' — tracks the impact of global heating on health. It is a collaboration by 120 experts from 35 institutions, including the World Health Organization, the World Bank, University College London and China's Tsinghua University.

Climate change is already harming people's health by increasing the number of extreme weather events and exacerbating air pollution, according to the study, and if nothing is done to mitigate it, its impacts could burden an entire generation with disease and illness throughout their lives.

As well as children, older people are particularly vulnerable to heatwaves because they are less able to regulate their temperature and fluid balance.

The authors found that 220 million more people over 65 were exposed to heatwaves in 2018 compared with the year 2000. Europe, the report said, was especially at risk, due to its high number of older citizens living in large, hot cities.

»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, who co-led the study.

He warned that health damage in early childhood is »persistent and pervasive« and carries lifelong consequences.

»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,« he told a briefing in London on Wednesday.

Yet introducing policies to limit emissions and cap global warming would see a different outcome, the research teams said. In that scenario, a child born today would see an end to coal use in Britain, for example, by age 6, and the world reaching net-zero emissions by the age 31.

On a »business-as-usual« pathway, with little action to limit climate change, it found that amid rising temperatures and extreme weather events, children would be vulnerable to malnutrition and rising food prices, and the most likely to suffer from warmer waters and climates accelerating the spread of infectious diseases such as dengue fever and cholera.

Among the most immediate and long-lasting health threats from climate change is air pollution, the researchers said.

They called for urgent action to reduce outdoor and indoor pollution through the introduction of cleaner fuels and vehicles, and policies to encourage safe and active transport such as walking and cycling.

The WHO says that globally in 2016, 7 million deaths were due to the effects of household and ambient air pollution. The vast majority of these were in low and middle-income countries.

»If we want to protect our children, we need to make sure the air they breathe isn't toxic,« said Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, a global health specialist at Britain's Sussex University who worked on the Lancet study.

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