Climate Change Could Be the World's Biggest Health Threat

A rise in sea level could also cause "catastrophic" effects, the researchers said, noting that of the 20 largest cities in the world, 13 are on a coast. A sea level rise of only a few meters could inundate many of those places, they said. Dr. Costello noted that aside from slowing or averting climate change, reducing carbon emissions would have some health benefits, including cleaner air and a lower burden of illnesses related to a sedentary lifestyles, such as obesity, diabetes, and stress.

The world might be reaching a "tipping point" in the climate change debate, Dr. Costello said, adding that the health lobby has come late to this debate but must be "at the forefront."

He said that before starting on this project, he – as a pediatrician – had not realized how serious the issue is as a matter of global health.

Dr. Costello said he and other health professionals "must emphasize the (health) threat to our children and grandchildren from greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation."

He added that the focus must be on health care systems, which are not equal throughout the world. Because of that inequality, the "loss of healthy life years" to climate change will probably be 500 times higher in Africa than in Europe.

Finally, he said, "we must develop win-win situations whereby we mitigate and adapt to climate change and at the same time significantly improve human health and well being."

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