WHO Report Highlights Knowledge Gaps in Climate and Health Research
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The synthesis highlights three main messages: the greater the warming, the greater the risks to health overall; important health gains result from actions to limit global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels; and the speed of reducing emissions will affect the level of adaptation ambition required.

The report outlines the existing knowledge gaps regarding risks to health and well-being in the context of a 1.5°C temperature rise, including, for example, limited understanding of co-benefits and trade-offs when reducing short-lived climate forcers, such as better health outcomes and improved agricultural productivity.

February 2019: The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a report that brings together all the health-related information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), and highlights knowledge gaps in climate change and health research.

The WHO synthesis, which was published in October 2018, looks at the impacts of global warming on human health, specifically related to extreme weather events, heat waves, flooding and sea level rise, infectious and vector-borne diseases, air quality, food and water security, sustainable development and poverty, migration and displacement, and occupational health.

The synthesis highlights three main messages:

  1. The greater the warming, the greater the risks to health overall, taking into account local variations, and uncertainties in precisely estimating health impacts;
  2. Important health gains result from actions to limit global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, including targeting pollutants like black carbon and methane that contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution, which causes approximately seven million deaths a year; and
  3. The speed of reducing emissions will affect the level of adaptation ambition required.

It also discusses: mitigation pathways and human health; strengthening and implementing the global response to climate change and human health; climate change, health and sustainable development; and knowledge gaps in climate change and health research.

Understanding mitigation-SDG interactions is critical for determining mitigation options that maximize synergies and minimize trade-offs.

The report describes policies aimed at addressing drivers of climate pollution, such as cleaner and more sustainable electricity generation systems, and urban design and transport policies that enable walking and cycling, all of which promote better health while cutting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

However, the report acknowledges that residual health risks will exist despite mitigation efforts, and explains that not all mitigation actions benefit health, citing, for example, increased use of biofuels, which affects the availability of land for agriculture and food security.

The report also details existing knowledge gaps regarding risks to health and well-being in the context of a 1.5°C temperature rise, particularly regarding occupational health, air quality and infectious diseases. It argues that the impacts of 1.5°C warming on public health, food distribution, nutrition, poverty, tourism and coastal infrastructure are poorly understood, particularly for developing countries. It also highlights knowledge gaps regarding:

  • implications of 1.5°C warming on livelihoods and poverty, on rural communities, indigenous groups and marginalized people;
  • regional risks and adaptation options, due to limited research on climate impacts on human health at the regional level;
  • differences between the impact of 1.5°C and 2°C warming on human health for a range of climate-sensitive health outcomes, such as diarrheal diseases, mental health and air quality; and
  • linkages of 1.5°C and 2°C warming on human migration.

The report notes limited quantitative studies of projected impacts of sea level rise at 1.5°C and 2°C, of particular relevance to the human health, agriculture and water resources of small island counties. It also flags limited understanding of co-benefits and trade-offs when reducing short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs), such as better health outcomes and improved agricultural productivity. The report also acknowledges that the scientific literature on climate-SDG interactions is still emerging, but that understanding mitigation-SDG interactions is critical for determining mitigation options that maximize synergies and minimize trade-offs. [Publication: The 1.5 Health Report: Synthesis on Health and Climate Science in the IPCC SR1.5] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on SR15] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on SR15 Summary for Urban Policymakers]

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