Climate change is seriously threatening human health

Children play in a stream created by flooded water after the passage of the cyclone Idai, in Mozambique, on March 24, 2019. Scientists say more frequent flooding increases the risk of diseases.

Story highlights

  • Extreme heat and more frequent floods increase the risk of diseases and injuries, according to scientists.
  • Warmer temperatures are already triggering serious mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
  • A zero-carbon economy could prevent several hundred thousand premature deaths, experts said.

(CNN)Climate change poses a major threat to human health and is already having global impact by spreading infectious diseases and exacerbating mental health problems, experts warned Tuesday.

But extreme heat and more frequent floods also increase the risk of diseases and injuries, according to 29 experts who form the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC).
    "Climate change is already contributing to the burden of disease and premature mortality. Without prompt and effective action, the problems are forecast to worsen considerably," the council said in a report.
    This report adds weight to existing research that shows we are living in a time when climate change is impacting human health.
    According to EASAC, climate change's effects include:
    • Worsening mental health: Warmer temperatures, wildfires and air pollution are triggering post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance abuse and depression.
    • Increasing physical diseases: Even a small rise in temperature can cause health problems such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
    • Spreading mosquito-borne diseases: The distribution of the Aedes Albopictus mosquito, which carries dengue fever, is expanding across Europe due to changing temperatures.
    UN climate scientists have warned that the world only has until 2030 to stem catastrophic levels of global warming, when temperatures are projected to reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
    If global temperatures reach this threshold, an estimated 350 million people worldwide would be exposed to extreme heat stress sufficient to greatly reduce their labor productivity during the hottest months of the year, according to EASAC.
    In November, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared climate change a "health emergency" after a report by The Lancet warned that "a rapidly changing climate has dire implications for every aspect of human life."
    Tackling climate change could save millions of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars by mid-century, according to a WHO report published in December.
    EASAC came to a similar conclusion.
    "Several hundred thousand premature deaths annually in the EU could be averted by a zero-carbon economy through reduced air pollution," according to Dr Robin Fears, program director of EASAC Biosciences.
    Fears said governments' top priority should be to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce fossil fuel combustion.
      Another effective solution is for governments to "promote healthier, more sustainable diets which will lower agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions," he added.
      Last month, climate experts urged the UK government to slash greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. If adopted, the target would be the most ambitious emissions reduction goal set by any large economy.