Millions work hours lost, transmission of diseases, crop yields reduction, premature loss of lives. The data of the cost of climate change on health in Italy presented at the launch event of the report “The Lancet Countdown 2019: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change”, along with the strategies to use to turn this threat into an opportunity.
Venice, 20 November 2019 – Fossil fuel use continues to pose a threat to public health: air pollution and climate change effects from fossil fuel combustion have a significant impact on human health. Concerning these issues, Italy appears to be directly involved, as underlined by the number (extremely high) of premature deaths associated with fine particulate matter, the spread of infectious diseases and a drop in labour productivity in many sectors (more than 10%). Numbers, data and details are at the center of “The Lancet Countdown 2019: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change”, the report presented today in Venice during an event organized by the CMCC Foundation (Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change) and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. The event provided an opportunity to discuss with scientists and experts the latest data on how climate change is affecting our health, at the global scale and with a specific focus on Italy.
Published by the outstanding journal on medical sciences, the report brings together 120 experts of 35 leading academic institutions and UN agencies from every continent while presenting an annual update through 41 indicators on climate change and health, with the aim to support policymakers to accelerate their strategic response.
The presentation of the study by Marina Romanello (University College, London), among the authors of the report, was introduced by Silvio Gualdi, SISC – Italian Society for Climate Sciences President and Director of Climate Simulations and Predictions Division of the CMCC Foundation.
“The current edition of the report highlights how and on what terms the threat posed by climate change on human health might become an opportunity with a robust and timely response”, Romanello explained.
The data of the report: the impacts of climate change on health, in Italy and all over the world
“Using fossil fuel for energy production imply not only to exacerbate global warming, but also worsen air quality”, said Romanello. “Concerning air quality, Italy is sadly in the lead with 45600 premature deaths associated with PM2.5 exposure in 2016. This is the highest value recorded in Europe, and the 11th highest in the world. Premature deaths from PM2.5 exposure has caused 20.2 billion EUR loss in Italy, again being the highest in Europe.
As the study highlights, trends in climate suitability for infectious disease transmission are particularly concerning, with 9 of the 10 most suitable years for the transmission of dengue fever on record occurring since 2000.
For dengue, vectorial capacity (i.e., the capacity of mosquitos to transmit dengue virus from one infected person to another susceptible person) has doubled since 1980 in Italy.
Food security is threatened and damaged by climate change and its effects on food prices and downward trends in global yield potential for all major crops, with infants often the worst affected by the potentially permanent effects of undernutrition. “Analyzing agricultural production in our country”, Romanello explains, “we can notice that crop yield potential for Italy has been reduced for all staple crops we are tracking. Since the 60s, the crop yield potential for maize has been reduced by 10.2%, the one for winter wheat has gone down by 5%, the spring wheat potential has reduced by 6%, the soybean potential has gone down by 7%, and the rice yield potential has gone down by 5%”.
Increases in the frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions, such as heatwaves, severe droughts and floods, threat mainly the most vulnerable populations. “The vulnerability of populations in Europe and in the Eastern Mediterranean to heat exposure is greater than that experienced by populations in Africa and South-East Asia, probably because of the large proportion of the population older than age 65 years old living in urban areas in these regions: these populations are particularly vulnerable to ictus and renal diseases linked to heatwaves especially because they are often affected by chronic diseases”, explained Romanello. “There have been 9.3 million more exposure events of vulnerable populations (older than 65 years old) to heatwaves in 2017 with respect to 2000. Moreover, exposure to heat has also led to over 1.7 million potential work hours lost in 2017 in Italy, 67% of which have been lost in the agricultural sector”.
“Climate change is expected to result in a decline in labour productivity in Europe, with a 11.2% and 8.3% reduction in the agricultural and industrial sectors, respectively, by 2080”, explained Shouro Dasgupta, researcher at [email protected]’Foscari, who gave a speech on the economic impacts due to the nexus between climate change and health. “The impacts in Italy are even more, with a 13.3% and a 11.5% of reduction, respectively. It’s important to underline that climate change will negatively impact on the Italian economy, with an 8.5% GDP loss by 2080, and, importantly, climate change will also increase income inequality across Italy while further widening the North-South divide: this will have significant implications on health”.