The importance to combat climate change and environmental pollution to protect human health in Europe

By Bartolomeo Buscema

Healthcare in Europe is provided through a wide range of different systems run at individual national levels. There is a need to harmonize all national systems in order to achieve best practices together with economical results. In this scenery, about six hundred  of  European health policy experts , member of civil society, academia and business  from across Europe met at the annual 2019 European Health Forum Gastein (2-4 October 2019, Austria) explored disruptive proposals  to enhance  health  level  based mainly on artificial intelligence,  economy  strategies  concerning well-being  and to combat  climate change  to limit its effect on  citizens.

Many topics  have been deal with, among them: data for safer care ( digital solutions and surveillance systems for patient safety),toward economy of well-being, vaccine ecosystem health check, obesity  and cancer  guidelines in Europe. Besides, ministers and high-level representatives from EU Member States, experts of  the European Commission joined the discussions  outlining  their  near term  visions  for the future of health. Other topics were the power of digital technologies, developing effective vaccines campaigns to decrease vaccine hesitancy and harmful effects of climate change on health. In this article , we  focus on the latter  topic  underlining  the undeniable effect on people’s health, which is rapidly becoming a public health emergency.

It is worthwhile  to put in evidence  that 4.7% of carbon emissions come from the health sector which is  the 5th highest pollution emitter. The challenge to achieve “zero carbon emissions“ in Europe  will require radical steps to be taken by hospitals, industry, healthcare professionals and patients.  The effects of climate change on public health, affect all areas of life including mainly various impacts such as the increase risk of infectious diseases, allergies, harmful effects related to heat waves especially for old poorer people. These effects also the labour market as the annual total working hours decreased. European countries are in a privileged situation as the effects of climate change can still be managed by helping the more vulnerable persons. Other regions in the world, especially Africa, witness more dramatic changes affecting  mostly poor people .We do believe  that  European Union  should  assume roles and responsibilities  to  help people  also in the rest of the world  displaying  and wide spreading    all the necessary best practice adaption measures  against the   disruptive effect of  the rapid increment of global mean temperature.

In recent years our understanding of climate-health relationships has increased rapidly and  consequently our understanding of how the disruption of biophysical and ecological systems due to climate change might affect the longer-term wellbeing and health of populations. It is worthwhile to underline that Climate change can affect human health directly (e.g., impacts of thermal stress, death/injury in floods and storms) and indirectly through changes in the ranges of disease vectors (e.g., mosquitoes), water-borne pathogens, water quality, air quality, and food availability and quality. For this scope, it is crucial to cut  greenhouse emissions sufficiently to keep temperature increase below 1,5°C above pre-industrial level   going toward  to decarbonising the economy as a result of reduced air pollution. Solutions ,of course,  must be implemented taking into account  present knowledge and in this respect the scientific community  should be played an important role in  countering misinformation on the health effects of climate change and in wide spreading  the best solutions adaptation and mitigation strategies. This should be done, in close collaboration with decision makers and politicians. Starting from the Paris Climate Agreement, which also is the most important public health agreement of this century, we need to decrease emissions from fossil fuel combustion and consequently reduce air pollution, which causes 600.000 deaths in European region every year. During the forum it has been stated that if member States would honor the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement, we would prevent 180.000 yearly deaths in the region.

Photos: credit Bartolomeo Buscema

 Bartolomeo Buscema is science journalist and science writer, UGIS, Italy

About Viola Egikova

Viola Egikova - science journalist based in Moscow, president of Intellect, former Vice-President of the European Union of Science Journalists' Associations, Programme Coordinator of All Russia Science Festival