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Climate Change and Health

04 June 2019

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PDF icon The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe PDF icon Summary of EASAC report The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe PDF icon Briefing paper on the EASAC report The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe

The Royal Irish Academy welcomes this timely research produced by the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC).

Health risks

Health risks will increase as climate change intensifies says the Royal Irish Academy and the European Science Academies Climate Change Working Group who are calling on European governments to accelerate their efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions and lessen the impact of climate change on air quality.

Air pollution

A recent estimate suggests that about 350,000 excess deaths annually in the EU can be attributed to outdoor air pollution from burning fossil fuels and a total of about 500,000 from all human-related activities.

Air pollution is a significant health risk with the elderly and sick children amongst the most vulnerable groups.  Already, seven million babies in Europe are living in areas where air pollution exceeds World Health Organisation recommended limits: such exposure may affect brain development and cognitive function.

Temperature increase

Based on current trends in greenhouse gas emissions, a global average temperature increase of over 3°C above pre-industrial levels is projected by the end of the century and rising temperatures will affect city dwellers more severely than rural dwellers. The Royal Irish Academy’s Professor Pat Goodman, TU Dublin comments

Climate change is already affecting people’s health in Europe, but we have solutions to reduce these risks. For example, several hundred thousand premature deaths annually in the EU could be averted by a ‘zero-carbon’ economy through reduced air pollution, with co-benefits of reduced GHG (greenhouse gases) and reduced oil and gas imports into Europe.  It is essential that Health is included in all policies at both EU and national level that address Climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The EASAC Working Group co-chair, Professor Sir Andy Haines (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine), comments, 

“If urgent action is not taken to reduce emissions in order to keep temperatures below the 2°C (or less) limit enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement, we face potentially irreversible changes that will have wide ranging impacts on many aspects of health. The scientific community has an important role in generating knowledge and countering misinformation. We hope that this comprehensive report will act as a wake-up call and draw attention to the need for action, particularly by pursuing policies to decarbonise the economy. The protection of health must have a higher profile in policies aimed at mitigating or adapting to the effects of climate change”.

This EASAC policy report seeks to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the broad range of scientific evidence on the impact of climate change on human health. A short summary of the EASAC report is also available, as well as a Royal Irish Academy Briefing Paper that highlights the relevance of the report to Ireland

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