Study on the consequences of climate change: climate crisis until the doctor arrives

100 medical experts warn: Climate change is bad for health. Children are particularly affected.

Infections such as dengue, Zika or chikungunya threaten to spread in Germany as well Photo: dpa

"Exceptional summers" like 20 with their health risks for the elderly, the sick and infants could soon no longer be exceptions: Up to five additional heat waves a year in northern Germany and 30 more hot spells a year in the south are possible by 2100, predicts a study in the British journal The Lancet, if nothing changes in CO2 emissions.

Heat stress and high ozone concentrations could have "serious consequences for human health," the study warns: heat stroke, heart attack, kidney failure due to lack of fluids. About 100 experts are working on the research project "The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change," on the German side among others from the German Medical Association, the Charite Berlin and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The basic tenor is that rising temperatures and changes in precipitation also increase the risk of infectious diseases – this year there were the first cases of West Nile fever in Germany, and there is a threat of infections of dengue, Zika and chikungunya, which were previously unknown here. Blue-green algae and Vibrio bacteria increasingly threaten bathing waters. "The health effects of climate change will not be felt someday in distant parts of the world, but here and now," said Klaus Reinhardt, president of the German Medical Association.

Children in particular at risk

For the global situation, the "Lancet Countdown" warns in particular of the dangers for children from a disturbed immune system, from hunger in the event of crop failures and from infections. A child born today would then, at the age of 71, live on average in a world that is four degrees warmer.

By contrast, if global warming were seriously limited to 1.5 degrees, a child in England could see coal phased out at age six, or France say goodbye to gasoline and diesel cars at age 21, it said. At 31, everyone could enjoy coal-free air and witness the world emitting only as much CO2 as is simultaneously sequestered by plants or oceans.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Report, also released Wednesday, shows how far the world is from such a path. According to the report, CO2 emissions will not start to fall from 2020, as would be necessary to meet the climate targets of 1.5 or 2 degrees, but will rise by 1 percent every year until 2040, even if countries implement all the measures promised to date.

A grand coalition needed for climate protection

Most of the growth will come from green energy and gas, he said, but emissions will still rise as the economy and world population continue to grow. Oil demand will slow from 2025, he said, and the U.S. will become the largest exporter of oil and gas.

Targeting climate change goals would require "rapid and far-reaching changes in all parts of the energy system," according to the IEA: three times the effort in energy conservation, rapid expansion of renewables and a global coal phase-out. "The world needs to urgently focus on reducing emissions," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol urged via Twitter. What is needed, he said, is a "grand coalition" that unites governments, investors, companies and all climate activists.