Health risks will increase as climate change intensifies with the elderly and sick children amongst the most vulnerable groups, according to a new report.
The report, carried out by the Royal Irish Academy and the European Science Academies Climate Change (EASAC) working group, calls on European governments to accelerate efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
A recent estimate suggests that about 350,000 excess deaths annually in the EU can be attributed to outdoor air pollution from burning fossil fuels and a total of about 500,000 from all human-related activities.
Air pollution is a significant health risk with the elderly and sick children amongst the most vulnerable groups.
Already, seven million babies in Europe are living in areas where air pollution exceeds World Health Organisation recommended limits. The report says such exposure may affect brain development and cognitive function.
Based on current trends in greenhouse gas emissions, a global average temperature increase of more than 3 degrees above pre-industrial levels is projected by the end of the century. Rising temperatures will affect city dwellers more severely than rural dwellers.
Prof Pat Goodman, of the Royal Irish Academy, said more premature deaths across the continent could be averted if concrete action is taken.
“Climate change is already affecting people’s health in Europe, but we have solutions to reduce these risks,” he said.
“For example, several hundred thousand premature deaths annually in the EU could be averted by a zero-carbon economy through reduced air pollution, with co-benefits of reduced greenhouse gases and reduced oil and gas imports into Europe.
“It is essential that health is included in all policies at both EU and national level that address climate change mitigation and adaptation.”
Prof Sir Andy Haines, EASAC working group co-chair, said he hoped the report would act as a “wake up call” on climate change.
“If urgent action is not taken to reduce emissions in order to keep temperatures below the 2 degrees or less limit enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement, we face potentially irreversible changes that will have wide ranging impacts on many aspects of health,” he said.
“The scientific community has an important role in generating knowledge and countering misinformation. We hope that this comprehensive report will act as a wake-up call and draw attention to the need for action, particularly by pursuing policies to decarbonise the economy.
“The protection of health must have a higher profile in policies aimed at mitigating or adapting to the effects of climate change.”