Research

The First Lancet Countdown in Europe Report Shows How Climate Change Impacts Public Health in European Countries

The Lancet Countdown in Europe is led by BSC, and co-led by ISGlobal, a centre supported by the La Caixa Fundation

26.10.2022

Alarming increases in health-related hazards, vulnerabilities, exposures, and impacts from climate change across Europe are exposed in the first report of the Lancet Countdown in Europe (LCDE), launched today. The document illustrates the urgent need for ambitious mitigation targets that restrict global temperature rise to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial times and effective adaptation strategies to build resilience to the increasing health threats of climate change.

The LCDE is led by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center- Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS), and co-led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the ”la Caixa Foundation”. The initiative is a collaboration of 44 leading researchers, established to monitor the links between health and climate change in Europe, and to support a robust, evidence-informed response to protect human health in Europe and beyond.

The 2022 Lancet Countdown in Europe report on Health and Climate Change shows region-specific indicators that provide information to guide health and climate policy decision making and contribute to the European Observatory on Climate and Health. It draws on broad expertise, including that of epidemiologists and public health experts, climate scientists, economists, social scientists, and political scientists.

Impact of heatwaves and other extreme events

According to the new indicators presented in the report, exposure to heatwaves increased by 57% on average in 2010-2019 compared with 2000-2009, and over 250% in some European regions, putting the elderly, young children, those with underlying chronic health conditions and the underserved (those who do not have adequate access to healthcare) at high risk of heat-related morbidity and mortality. Heat-related mortality has also increased in 94% of the 990 regions monitored, as a result of the warming observed between 2000 and 2020. 

Climate change is also driving increasingly intense and frequent climate-related extreme events in Europe, with both direct and indirect health impacts, loss of infrastructure and economic costs. Between 2011 and 2020, 55% of the European regions have faced extreme to exceptional summer drought, and climate-related extreme events including floods caused record economic losses in 2021 – totaling almost €48 billion.

Transmission of infectious diseases

The changing environmental conditions are also shifting the suitability for the transmission of various infectious diseases. The climatic suitability for the transmission of dengue increased by 30% in the latest decade with respect to the 1950s, and the environmental risk of West Nile virus outbreaks increased by 149% in Southern Europe and 163% in Central and Eastern Europe in 1986-2020 compared to 1951-1985.

Warmer temperatures are also shifting flowering seasons of several allergenic tree species with birch, olive and alder seasons beginning 10–20 days earlier than 41 years ago, affecting the health of around 40% of the population in Europe who suffer from pollen allergies.

Adaptation efforts must rapidly accelerate

European countries are home to some of the best healthcare systems in the world. However, with a world dangerously close to reaching climate-driven points of no return, ambitious adaptation and mitigation strategies are needed not only to protect lives and wellbeing in Europe, but also in countries that have historically contributed least to human caused climate change.

These overlapping and interconnecting health impacts, which are evolving against a backdrop of a pandemic and the devastating war in Ukraine, reveal the urgent need for interventions that build resilience in the health sector and protect people from the increasing health hazards. This is the biggest public health policy opportunity of the century and Europe cannot afford to miss.

Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change

The LCDE is framed within the global initiative The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, that brings together 120 leading experts to monitor how the world’s changing climate is impacting public health. Every year, the Lancet Countdown publishes a report that harnesses the latest global data to make clear how climate change is affecting our health and the consequences of delayed action.

This year, for the first time, the European Regional Centre of The Lancet Countdown, based in Barcelona, has presented an indicator report on Health and Climate Change in Europe published in the Lancet Public Health.

The 2022 Lancet Countdown in Europe report on Health and Climate Change will be presented in Barcelona next Friday, al 11h, at CaixaForum Macaya. The event will discuss the latest evidence on how climate change is undermining the foundations of good health in Europe, as well as detailing the health benefits of a rapid and robust response.

The report will be presented by Rachel Lowe, ICREA Professor, researcher at BSC and Director of LCDE, and Cathryn Tonne, researcher at ISGlobal and Co-director of LCDE.

QUOTES FROM:

Rachel Lowe

Director of the of the Lancet Countdown in Europe, ICREA research professor, and Global Health Resilience team leader at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS).

“Mirroring the approach of the global Lancet Countdown, our first Lancet Countdown in Europe indicator report tracks the health impacts being felt across Europe as well as the health co-benefits of action. After the hottest European summer on record, Europe is waking up to the realities of a warming world, and what this will mean for our health. Our report highlights the wide-ranging health impacts already being felt across Europe. These are warning signs that European governments, health systems, and communities must work towards a climate resilient future.”

Kim van Daalen

Lead author of the Lancet Countdown in Europe report and PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. Kim will join the BSC next January as a new Lancet Countdown in Europe postdoctoral fellow.

“Europe has historically been one of the major contributors to the climate crisis, placing lives and health at risk globally. Importantly, such impacts are experienced unequally, exacerbating entrenched between-country and within-country inequalities. Accelerated action in Europe will protect peoples’ lives and wellbeing from climate impacts, not only in Europe but also in those countries that have historically contributed the least to climate change. Europe has the global responsibility and opportunity to commit to a low-carbon, just transition, that delivers climate action in line with the Paris Agreement and improves human health for all.”

Cathryn Tonne

Co-director of the Lancet Countdown in Europe and researcher at ISGlobal.

“Europe is at a critical turning point in terms of energy and climate policy. Now is the time for decisive action to switch from fossil fuels to domestic sources of renewable energy. The good news is that by placing health at the centre of climate change mitigation, there are large opportunities to improve the health of Europeans in the near term as well as improve energy security through cleaner air, healthier diets with less red meat and dairy, and increased physical activity by shifting from private motor vehicles to walking, cycling, and public transport.”

Josep Maria Antó

Co-chair of the Lancet Countdown in Europe and Emeritus professor of Medicine at UPF and ISGlobal.

“The health systems and health professionals in Europe should be at the forefront of the fight against the climate crisis. The impacts are already huge as dramatically shown by the heat excess mortality during the last summer in many European countries. With the European Green Deal in place we have a unique opportunity to support and strengthen mitigation and adaptation measures in our health systems and to put health at the center of the action against the climate crisis.”