Decalogue about climate, environment and respiratory health
Health professionals are particularly sensitised to the link between environment, climate and respiratory health and they should be taken into account by who decides upon health policy. The ERS (European Respiratory Society) has proposed ten principles about the main health consequences due to climate changes.
In brief, these are the ten principles:
1. Climate change is real.
All of us remember the record temperatures of 2016 and the news about the melting of polar ice caps... These facts are putting coastal communities at risk (floods) and could bring to lack of fresh water resource.
2. Health and environment are inextricably linked to climate change.
It is estimated that almost 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to modifiable environmental factors. The highest concentrations of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) have caused more severe and prolonged heat waves, increased length and severity of the pollen season, air pollution, forest fires and heavy precipitation events with floods.
3. Climate change has a direct effect on respiratory health.
Increases in temperature see an increase in respiratory deaths. Extreme heat and high humidity trigger asthma and COPD symptoms. An increased frequency of thunderstorm asthma epidemics can be expected.
4. Climate change has an indirect effect on respiratory health.
Beyond the abnormal temperature, there is a higher exposure to other risk factors: greater dampness with proliferation of mould in indoor spaces (and so worsening of asthma, rhinitis or some respiratory infections), amplification of air pollution which reduces lung function.
5. New health impacts are emerging of which we have little understanding.
For example, the extreme natural phenomena, like the lengthening and strengthening of the pollen season or the increasing impact of natural particulate matter from wildfires, desertification and sandstorms.
6. The impact on health is not always equal.
Some 30% of the world’s population is at risk from “lethal heat events” and the people already affected by respiratory illness are more fragile.
7. The challenge is to change.
Greenhouse gas emissions are mainly driven by population size, economic activity, lifestyle, energy use and land use patterns. Contrasting climate change requires mitigation to address the causes and adaptation to address the impact.
8. Act to mitigate.
Policies are needed to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution. Some examples: reduction of fossil fuels subsidies, empowerment of public transport or non-motorised transport.
9. Act to adapt.
Adaptation options require dealing with the impact of climate change, for example with improvement of climate-sensitive disease surveillance. Obviously, there can’t be resignation to pollution presence, if there are less harmful options.
10. Above all, act now!
Much has been made of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris agreement. Proactive proposals are needed, like the Sweden one to be carbon neutral by 2045, invest in green fuels, reduce diesel emission and respect the WHO standard on air quality.
Medical societies have a continued role to play in supporting the health message and advocating for policies that will achieve its objectives.
Barry M, Annesi-Maesano I. Ten principles for climate, environment and respiratory health. European Respiratory Journal 2017 50: 1701912; DOI: 10.1183/13993003.01912-2017