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Climate Change Dangers of Concern for Health Care Professionals

What are the climate change dangers of concern for today's
health care professions?

The greatest emergency level concern today is for the plight of our children's generation (especially in vulnerable regions)
and all future generations.


  • The greatest danger to the survival of most life on Earth including humanity is what has been called "runaway" global warming and climate change. This is irreversible, self-reinforcing, uncontrollable global temperature increase and climate disruption due to positive (which are bad, in this case) climate feedbacks. (Climate feedbacks from the loss of Arctic summer ice, and carbon feedbacks in general, are not accounted for in the global temperature increase projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.)

  • The combined permanent deterioration of the planet from the adverse impacts of global warming and acidification of the oceans is a danger to the survival of humanity and all life on land as well as life under the sea. This dangerous synergy has only received serious attention in the past few years.

  • Sea level rise is regarded as the key danger, but this comes at the bottom of the risk list. It is a dramatic danger, but is predicted to happen centuries into the future and even then is expected to happen very slowly.

  • The greatest danger to large human populations, which also applies to humanity as a whole, is the combined numerous adverse climate change impacts on human health. This is not accounted for in climate change assessments for policy making.
    • Small children in all regions are especially vulnerable to all the adverse human population impacts.
    • The poor are especially vulnerable in all regions.
    • Those with the most common chronic illnesses are vulnerable.

World Health Organization Calls for Global Action to "Protect Health from Climate Change"

"Health professionals are on the front line in dealing with the impacts of climate change. The most vulnerable populations are those who live in countries where the health sector already struggles to prevent, detect, control and treat diseases and health conditions, including malaria, malnutrition and diarrhoea. Climate change will highlight and exacerbate these weaknesses by bringing new pressures on public health, with greater frequency. We need to put public health at the heart of the climate change agenda."
Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, 23 October 2007

  • Extreme weather events will have the worst damaging impacts on both human population health and agriculture. Because the climate models that are being relied upon have a low resolution for regional and local climate changes, these dangerous impacts are not accounted for in assessments for policy making.

  • Public health services will collapse under the multiple health impacts experienced by most of humanity. Even services in developed regions will likely be overwhelmed.

  • The greatest specific danger to large human populations will be reduction in the availability of drinking water and water for irrigation as well as the loss of food production.

  • Most communicable diseases are increased by the multiple effects of global climate change.
Global Humanitarian Forum's Anatomy of a Silent Crisis
  • Climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year (a figure that has doubled in less than a decade) and is affecting 300 million people, according to the Global Humanitarian Forum, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's 2007-2010 think tank, in the report Anatomy of a Silent Crisis [pdf]. As heatwaves, storms, floods and forest fires become more severe, climate change is fast becoming the greatest humanitarian challenge facing the world. Civil unrest may also increase because of weather-related events, the report says: "Four billion people are vulnerable now and 500 million are now at extreme risk.
    Weather-related disasters ... bring hunger,
    disease, poverty and lost livelihoods."

  • Climate change will create hundreds of millions of refugees, for whom there will likely be little or no aid (as other countries deal with their own impacts of climate change).

  • Agriculture and water supply in the most climate change vulnerable regions will be impacted from now on.

  • Computer-modelled results of the impacts of climate change on agriculture and health, especially in climate vulnerable regions, lack crucial data.

  • The regions and nations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are, for the most part, those least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and least able to cope with the impacts, both financially and in terms of health care capacity.

  • Over half the world's current population (4.4 billion) will be at risk of water deprivation by 2100 without an emergency response now.

  • Without an emergency response now, hundreds of millions of environmental refugees are predicted by 2100.

  • In many regions
    • increased communicable and vector-borne diseases
    • conflict over scarce resources
    • lack of clean water, and
    • famines and hunger
    will add up to a high risk of the worst public health disaster in history occurring this century.

  • The risk of large scale public health disasters barely makes it onto the list of global climate change policymaking concerns.

  • Disastrous impacts on multiple, large, regional populations is now inevitable but is not being given priority attention.

  • Above a global temperature increase of 1.5C*, agriculture in all regions will be vulnerable to climate change (IPCC). According to the IPCC's technical report on the impacts of climate change on food, food crops
    have an absolute upper limit of regional global warming and climate change tolerance of 3.5C, above which they will go into decline in all regions. For most regions, this means an absolute global average temperature limit of 3C. IN MOST CLIMATE CHANGE VULNERABLE REGIONS, CROPS WILL GO INTO DECLINE AT +1.5C.
    (*All temperature increases are above the pre-industrial or 1900 baseline.)

  • National and international policy planning is targeting a 2C global averaged warming, which the European Union acknowledges is "not safe" and which, according to the latest science, is disastrous and invites catastrophe.

  • We have totally run out of time. Due to inertias in the climate system as well as the socio-economic system (that is, response times for action), it is now too late to avoid a 2C global warming or higher.

  • Global GHG emissions are above the IPCC worst case scenario but the post-IPCC science (2006 to today) is not being tabled at the Kyoto Protocol successor negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009.

  • Both the scientists and the policymakers say they still have no definition of "dangerous" as in "avoiding dangerous interference with the climate system," which is the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

  • The synergistic effects of global climate change added to ongoing global environmental degradations along with deprivations of regionally climate-vulnerable populations are not being included in policy planning.

  • Potentially catastrophic carbon feedbacks from Arctic warming are the greatest of all global warming dangers. Even though this feedback has started, it is not acknowledged as a danger in policy planning.

  • In particular, the now large risk of catastrophe from Arctic methane hydrates is being ignored.

  • Little attention is given to the unprecedented acidification of the oceans.

  • Published research finding that the world's coral reefs are likely doomed has brought no response.

  • Weight of evidence and precaution have been replaced by conservative unanimous scientific consensus.

  • There is no planning for a global emergency-scale response, for either mitigation or adaptation.

  • A great many obvious, cost-effective, easy solutions for reducing emissions, which have been known for over a decade, are still not being implemented.

  • Economic and energy projection reports predict that fossil fuel energy production and use will not drop and that global GHG emissions will thereby double by 2050.

  • The G8 (industrialized nations) plan of a 50% global GHG emissions reduction by 2050 is disastrous.

  • GHG emissions from Asian industrialization, now the highest in the world, cannot be ignored in a Kyoto Protocol replacement. (Regional populations in Asia are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of global climate change.)

  • The recommendations in the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change have not been acted upon. There is no sign of correction to the greatest and most far-reaching market failure ever.

  • Research and development (R&D) public investment in renewable energy has halved since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

  • Reliance on a carbon trading market is not an emergency response.

  • Investment in biofuels is its own disaster and does nothing to mitigate global warming.

  • Reliance on carbon capture and storage for power plants is not an emergency solution.

  • There is no such thing as "clean coal."

  • While we are out of time for relying on voluntary public behaviour change, the simplest, healthiest and most effective change is to curtail meat-eating (the livestock industry is responsible for 18% of global GHGs), but this strategy is rarely, if ever, included in lists of individual and institutional actions.

  • Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world's richest half-billion people about 7 per cent of the global population are responsible for 50 per cent of the worlds carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 per cent are responsible for just 7 per cent of emissions.

  • The present economic credit crisis caused by bad economics might be jeopardizing the chances of essential heavy investments in a renewable energy industrial revolution.

Only an international declaration of a global climate change state of emergency can be expected to rapidly rectify this situation, by leading to a concerted international emergency response to rescue all future generations.

If we do not take emergency action today, they will be helpless in the face of irreversible and ever-worsening climate change impacts creating the greatest hunger/homelessness/refugee public health emergency ever, in a world that won't be able to respond.

But this is not the kind of emergency that doctors and other health care professionals are used to dealing with. This is a long emergency one that will reverberate for centuries.

The world needs policies and planning based on the avoidance of any risk of runaway global warming and catastrophic climate change. (This is not the policy situation at present.)

It is CLIMATE CHANGE EMERGENCY MEDICAL RESPONSE's mission to assist in remedying these climate change dangers and concerns. We are not used to securing human rights for future generations and this is for 'all future generations' (Stern Commission 2006) This site therefore addresses the worst risks as well as the worst predicted impacts to human populations and to the future of humanity.

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