Climate change impacts on human health were the focus of an
Auckland academic's contribution to the latest report from the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The second part of the Fifth assessment report has just been
released by the IPCC and considers how the changing climate impacts
people and the natural world.
A University of Auckland expert in epidemiology and
biostatistics, Professor Alistair Woodward led the chapter on human
health and an accompanying paper which is published today by
prestigious medical journal, the Lancet.
The full IPCC Fifth Report was released this week and was the
culmination of three years of work by 300 authors, amounting to
almost 2000 pages.
Professor Woodward says the effects of high temperatures on
workers' health and labour productivity were highlighted in this
"The Fifth Report also gives greater attention to the so-called
high-end climate scenarios, reflecting recent research and the
persistent failure of international negotiations to make credible
progress toward substantial reduction in emissions", he says.
"Some scenarios project warming of 4-7C (on average) over much
of the global landmass by the end of the 21st century," he says.
"If this change happens, then the hottest days will exceed present
temperatures by a wide margin and increase the number of people who
live in conditions that are so extreme that the ability of the
human body to maintain heat balance during physical activity is
compromised for parts of the year and unprotected outdoor labour is
no longer possible."
The new assessment concluded, as did the Fourth Report, that
there might be some health gains from climate change (such as
reduced cold-related morbidity and mortality), but showed that the
evidence is now stronger for positive effects to be outweighed,
worldwide, by negative effects.
"The effect of climate-sensitive health outcomes (such as hunger
and vector-borne diseases) is moderated by many factors other than
climate (for example, living conditions and health care)", says
"The key message is that climate change is a huge risk. It is a
risk to health, and every other aspect of human activity. The
problem is that our present trajectory of consumption is taking us
further into the danger zone," he says. "But there are also
significant opportunities. There are many ways to reduce future
risk and at the same time promote present-day health and
"These include energy policies that move away from polluting
fuels, coal especially and making our cities places for people to
move comfortably on foot and bicycle and public transport."
"Boosting public health services in vulnerable, low-income
countries is necessary to cope with climate change impacts; we know
this will also bring many benefits in the short-term," he says.