The Brunt of Climate Change

Small islands face the greatest risk of diseases linked to a rising sea level and climate change. REUTERS/Rolex Dela Pena

By Barbara Lewis

PARIS, Dec 5 – Small islands affected by the rising sea levels also face the greatest risk of diseases linked to a warmer planet, health leaders said on Saturday, as 13 million medical professionals added to the calls for a global climate pact.

Hundreds of thousands more people will die every year from heat stroke and tropical illnesses unless negotiators in Paris can agree a strong global deal to cap global warming, the Global Climate and Health Alliance said.

The alliance, formed at U.N. climate talks in Durban in 2011, met in central Paris on Saturday as U.N. negotiators on the outskirts of the city sought to hammer out a new climate change pact.

The World Health Organization has warned that the effects of extreme weather on the fight against malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea alone will account for an extra 250,000 premature deaths a year by 2030.

“In the case of small island states like Tuvalu, the health impacts of climate change are palpable,” said the island’s health minister, Satini Tulaga Manuella said.

“When we are talking about climate change, this is important for the future health of our people, and people everywhere.”

Jone Usamate, health minister for Fiji, said the island was suffering from climate-related diseases such as dengue fever and chikungunya, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes and unknown in Fiji until the first case was confirmed in May.

“As the climate changes, we are seeing new infectious diseases and many other health impacts,” he said.

The Global Climate and Health Alliance groups more than 1,700 health organisations and 8,200 hospitals and health facilities.

It said it had collected 13 million signatories from its members, amounting to a medical consensus on the need to combat global warming.

Even without the wider effects of climate change, air pollution from fossil fuels, especially from coal-fired electricity and vehicle emissions, is a major cause of early death.

In the European Union, more than 400,000 early deaths a year are linked to air pollution that causes respiratory disease and some forms of cancer, the European Commission has found.

But EU policy-makers’ efforts to roll out tougher emissions standards have been repeatedly diluted as governments and member states count the short-term costs of action, which health professionals say would be far outweighed by reduced medical bills if more action were taken.

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