Network Updates / Worldwide / 2024-06-03

Climate change and noncommunicable diseases: connections:

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Reposted from WHO

Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity, and health professionals worldwide are already responding to the health harms caused by this unfolding crisis. Climate change is impacting human lives and health in a variety of ways. It threatens the essential ingredients of good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply and safe shelter – and has the potential to undermine decades of progress in global health.

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 74% of all deaths globally. Each year, 17 million people die from an NCD before age 70; 86% of these premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Of all NCD deaths, 77% are in low- and middle-income countries. Cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, or 17.9 million people annually, followed by cancers (9.3 million), chronic respiratory diseases (4.1 million), and diabetes (2.0 million including kidney disease deaths caused by diabetes). These 4 groups of diseases account for over 80% of all premature NCD deaths.

Two major global crises of our time, climate change and the epidemic of NCDs, are intertwined. They erode gains in health and development and the quality of life, hitting poor and marginalized people the hardest. Action to manage them both should be aligned in synergistic interventions that can address both.

Human toll: how climate change impacts NCDs

Climate change is already impacting health in a myriad of ways, including by leading to death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms and floods, the disruption of food systems, increases in zoonoses and food-, water- and vector-borne diseases, and mental health issues.

Below we provide links to information on climate change impacts on health, in particular on NCDs. Two of these being WHO guidance for climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable health care facilities and the NCD data portal: data on current status of NCD mortality, morbidity and risk factor exposures.

Some of the impacts are:

  • heat waves: cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke
  • air pollution: stroke, heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer
  • wildfires: suffocation, burns, cardiovascular and respiratory problems, mental health, destruction of health services and housing
  • drought: food insecurity, malnutrition, and psychosocial stress
  • floods: disruption to health services, displacement and shortages of safe water, mental and physiological health, food insecurity and malnutrition
  • injuries and mortality from extreme weather events
  • impact on health care facilities.

Unequal distribution of climate health risk

Furthermore, climate change is undermining many of the social determinants for good health, such as livelihoods, equality and access to health care and social support structures. These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced persons, older populations, and those with underlying health conditions. While no one is safe from these risks, the people whose health is being harmed first and worst by the climate crisis are the people who contribute least to its causes, and who are least able to protect themselves and their families against it – people in low-income and disadvantaged countries and communities.

For example: small island developing states (SIDS) have made minimal contributions to global emissions of greenhouse gases but are among the countries hardest hit by climate change and natural disasters. There is increasing strong evidence for a relation between increased morbidity and mortality from NCDs and extreme weather events, including heat waves, and also increasingly unhealthy diets and food and water insecurity. Climate change also poses serious risks to mental health. SIDS are disproportionately represented among the countries with the highest estimated risk of dying prematurely from any of the 4 main NCDs, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory diseases. Eight of the 15 countries in the world with over 30% risk of premature death from NCDs in 2019 were SIDS.

Regional impacts on health and NCDs from climate change

Health co-benefits of climate action

Action to combat climate change can lead to large positive improvements in public health. The public health benefits of ambitious climate actions far outweigh the costs, while strengthening health resilience and building adaptive capacity protects vulnerable populations from health shocks and promotes social equity.

“Well-designed climate mitigation measures can also reduce NCD risk factors in SIDS, as well as show leadership. For instance, measures to ensure clean energy and transport will reduce air pollution; policies to promote walking and biking may reduce weight and lower blood pressure. Policy for the production and consumption of healthy, locally produced fresh foods, particularly plant-based foods, and discouraging excessive red meat consumption, would lower greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and result in healthier diets. In addition, planting trees and shrubs with crops could both increase the resilience of crops to droughts and excessive rainfall run-off, reduce CO2 emissions as well as improve health.” Taken from the Climate change and noncommunicable diseases in small island developing states: policy brief.

WHO climate actions

COP28 in collaboration with WHO and other main partners will organize the first ever Health Day and climate-health ministerial. Moreover, for the third time, WHO and the Wellcome Trust will host COP28 Health Pavilion. This will generate a watershed moment for climate and health, convening a wide variety of actors including ministers, climate and health professionals, civil society organizations, youth representatives and business, and will bring the climate–health agenda into the mainstream. WHO in partnership with members of the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate Change and Health (ATACH) will continue promoting commitments to building climate resilient and sustainable low carbon health systems.

The Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH; “the Alliance”) works to realize the ambition set at COP26 to build climate resilient and sustainable health systems, using the collective power of WHO Member States (“Member States”) and other stakeholders to drive this agenda forward at pace and scale; and promote the integration of climate change and health nexus into respective national, regional, and global plans.

The Adaptation Action Coalition was founded in January 2021 with the aim to build momentum and accelerate action to adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate change. At the 12th Petersburg Climate Dialogue (PCD XII) on 6 and 7 May, the Adaptation Action Coalition will step up with a call for additional commitments to build health systems that are climate resilient and environmentally sustainable.

WHO calls for climate actions to improve health for all

  • Safeguard nature
  • Ensure access to clean air and water
  • Ensure a quick healthy energy transition
  • Promote healthy sustainable food supply
  • Build healthy liveable cities
  • Stop funding pollution
  • Build resilient health systems
  • Strengthen occupational health standards using WHO guidelines
  • Investments in health: best buys
  • The WHO Global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013–2030
  • The Implementation roadmap for the Global action plan on the prevention and control of NCDs 2023–2030
  • Have you an NCD and are you impacted by climate change?

Join the campaign and tell us how you are affected by NCDs such as cancer, heart diseases, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, or diabetes? Have you a family member or friend affected? Are you a health worker, caregiver or policy-maker? Tell us your story.

Learn more: Climate change and noncommunicable diseases: connections (