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Report warns of catastrophic health effects resulting from climate change: 'These staggering numbers are actually conservative'

The forecast serves as a reminder of the collaborative efforts needed to manage the Earth's overheating before it's too late.

The forecast serves as a reminder of the collaborative efforts needed to manage the Earth’s overheating before it’s too late.

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A report from the World Economic Forum and consulting firm Oliver Wyman projected that climate change will have severe financial repercussions worth trillions of dollars and be directly and indirectly responsible for millions of deaths by 2050.

What happened?

The paper was published in January and aimed to "quantify the health consequences of climate change, both in terms of the health outcomes themselves (mortality and healthy lives lost) and in terms of the economic costs to the healthcare system."

It found that rising temperatures will cause 14.5 million additional deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses worldwide within the next 26 years based on middle-of-the-road scenarios. There will also be an "immense strain on global healthcare systems," costing an overwhelmed industry another $1.1 trillion to cover the treatment for diseases spurred by a warming planet. 

"These staggering numbers are actually conservative," Daniel R. Brooks, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto who was not involved with the research, told Grist. 

"The most vulnerable populations, including women, youth, elderly, lower-income groups, and hard-to-reach communities, will be the most affected by climate-related consequences," the report read, adding that central African and southern Asian countries are the most susceptible since they lack the resources and infrastructure to combat this issue.

Why is the report important?

The authors dissected six weather-related events that are the most affected by climate change and will trigger the most damage to human health and the economy: floods and extreme rainfall, droughts, heat waves, tropical storms, wildfires, and rising sea levels

Each event severely and directly impacts humans, and the residual effects touch virtually every aspect of life and compound their initial devastation.

For example, rising sea levels can facilitate storms that lead to flooding. The resulting catastrophes can cause coastal erosion, soil degradation, vegetation and crop destruction, and saltwater intrusion

Those factors can increase salinity, threaten food security, and expand the habitat for mosquitoes, all of which can cause infectious, cardiovascular, and respiratory diseases; malnutrition; and mental health problems. Storms and flooding can damage buildings and roads, which forces individuals and communities to evacuate and migrate. 

What's being done following the report?

The forecast serves as a reminder of the collaborative efforts needed to manage the Earth's overheating before it's too late.

Barbados, Fiji, Kenya, Monaco, Netherlands, Peru, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom proposed a joint draft to members of the United Nations based on solutions outlined by the World Economic Forum.

The study highlighted the need to reduce reliance on dirty energy sources, called on governments to dedicate resources to identifying and targeting climate change needs, and encouraged wealthier nations and foundations to assist developing countries. 

"The holy grail will lie in prevention," Rolf Fricker, a partner at Oliver Wyman and a co-author of the report, said of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "This is the most important thing."

"Not only do we have a number of challenges that are being addressed individually by really smart people, but all of those challenges connect with and influence each other," Brooks said.

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