A report from the University of Reading has investigated the effects of hot weather and the ongoing reliance on fossil fuels on global healthcare.
The University of Reading has a long-standing involvement with the Lancet Countdown, an international collaboration that monitors the health impacts of climate change as the planet warms up.
The most recent report examines the links between human health and societies’ reliance on fossil fuels in 2021. The researchers explored the hazards this has created, including the effects of hot weather.
The researchers have suggested that climate change not only impacts human health but compounds the effects of other global events that might have negative health impacts on the population. COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and the cost-of-living, food, and energy crises were all cited as examples of health challenges that have been made more difficult by global warming.
In 2021, food insecurity, extreme heat exposure, drought, and wildfires were all exacerbated by climate change and the effects of hot weather, affecting people’s health across the world. Rising temperatures have created a heightened risk of infectious disease outbreaks and an increased number of life-threatening extreme weather events.
The concurrence of these events with factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis provides an important context for the relationship between health and climate change, according to the University of Reading research team.
The effects of hot weather are altering everyday life
“When the weather gets extremely hot, the hours in the day where it is safe to do strenuous exercise or work outdoors, and our mental and emotional wellbeing, among other factors, are affected. This is one area where we see that climate change is having a significant impact on health,” said Dr Claudia Di Napoli, a research fellow at the University of Reading.
In 2021, heat exposure led to an estimated loss of 470 billion potential labour hours globally. In many countries, this led to a substantial loss in GDP; some developing countries lost as much as 5.6% of their annual GDP. The loss of labour hours on this scale heightened the cost-of-living crisis, creating a socioeconomic condition that was less conducive to good health.
Mental wellbeing has been damaged by climate change
The research also found that mental wellbeing suffered due to the prolonged effects of hot weather in 2021. The research team found data that suggested the Pacific Northwest heatwave, alongside extreme rainfall in western Europe, led to people expressing more negative feelings compared to a 2015-20 baseline.
The study also found that the global amount of land that was affected by extreme drought rose by 29% between 2012 and 2021, drastically increasing the risk of water and food insecurity.
The combination of these health crises has placed an increased burden on healthcare systems across the world, at a time when the health sector is still struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The overall proportion of extreme, deadly climate-related events has increased since 1980, however, the average lethality per climate-related disaster has decreased.
“This improvement is negatively associated with healthcare spending, suggesting it would be possible to increase coping capacity through health system strengthening,” concluded Dr Di Napoli.