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World Health Organization highlights climate change - health linkage

Amy Luers, Program Manager,

The World Health Organization (WHO) has dedicated today, World Health Day 2008, to raising awareness of the health risks of global climate change. Health belongs in the climate change discussion, and we're glad WHO and its member countries are using today to bring the linkage to the forefront.

Climate’s effects on health are wide reaching. Climate affects the quality of air we breathe and the quantity and quality of water resources. It affects the productivity of agriculture, distribution of pests and disease, and the severity and frequency of heatwaves, droughts, floods, and wildfires. As a result, climate change is not just an environmental issue but fundamentally a human health and livelihoods issue.

We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change across the globe. In fact, a WHO report concluded the climate changes since the mid-1970s may have caused about 150,000 deaths in 2000. The impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt in the poorest regions of the world.

Change in WHO estimated mortality per year (per million people) attributable to climate change by the year 2000. This map is based on WHO data for climate-sensitive health outcomes including: cardiovascular diseases, diarrhea, malaria, inland and coastal flooding, and malnutrition. Learn more about the link of climate and health.

If global emissions of heat-trapping gases continue, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that global temperatures could rise as much as 4°C more by the end of the century with an associated rise in risks to human health.

The global community is just beginning to understand the impact that continued climate change is likely to have on the distribution of infectious diseases. Check out the post by our mapping specialists where they describe the Google Earth layers they developed with scientists researching the affects climate may have on dengue and malaria transmission. You can also download these Google Earth layers here.

While some climate change impacts on public health and the environment are now unavoidable due to our past emissions of greenhouse gases, the severity of the impacts will depend on actions we take today to both reduce future emissions and prepare for the changes ahead. At we are working to reduce greenhouse gas emission by developing utility-scale renewable energy cheaper than coal and accelerating the commercialization of plug-in vehicles through the RechargeIT initiative, while the Predict and Prevent initiative team is working to help prepare the world's poor to manage the rising number emerging infectious diseases in our rapidly changing world.

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