The World Economic Forum and Oliver Wyman have developed an in-depth accounting of the devastating consequences for public health of Earth’s gradually rising average temperatures, titled "Quantifying The Impact Of Climate Change On Human Health".
In this first-ever study for the World Economic Forum of global warming’s health effects, we project as many as 14.5 million additional deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses by 2050 from more frequent and severe climate-generated natural disasters. The report also outlines climate change’s impact on the world’s healthcare systems and recommends proactive steps governments and industry might consider to get ahead of the impending crisis.
While there has been much discussion about the impact of climate change on nature and the global economy, some of the most pressing consequences of the planet’s rising temperatures will be on human health and the global healthcare system. The report aims 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. Six major climate-driven event categories were analyzed as important drivers of negative health impacts, including floods, droughts, heat waves, tropical storms, wildfires, and rising sea levels.
The findings of the analysis showed that by 2050, climate change is likely to cause an additional 14.5 million deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses worldwide. Climate-induced impacts will account for a further $1.1 trillion in extra costs to healthcare systems, creating a significant additional burden on already strained infrastructures and medical and human resources.
Of the weather events analyzed, floods were found to pose the highest acute risk of climate-induced mortality, accounting for 8.5 million deaths by 2050. Droughts, indirectly linked to extreme heat, are the second-highest cause of mortality, with an anticipated 3.2 million deaths. Heat waves, which constitute a prolonged period of extreme temperatures and humidity, take the highest economic toll at an estimated $7.1 trillion by 2050 due to the loss in productivity.
Climate change will trigger a catastrophic rise across several climate-sensitive disease outcomes, including vector-borne disease.
Warmer temperatures will increase both the breeding period and geographical range of mosquito colonies, leading to the expansion of diseases like malaria, dengue and Zika to moderate and previously less affected climate zones such as Europe and the US. By 2050, an additional 500 million people may be at risk of exposure to vector-borne diseases.
Importantly, climate change will exacerbate global health inequities. The most vulnerable populations, including women, the youth, the elderly, lower-income groups, and hard-to-reach communities, will be the most affected by climate-related consequences. Regions such as Africa and southern Asia face heightened vulnerability to climate change impacts exacerbated by existing resource limitations and inadequate infrastructure, and essential medical equipment which will further complicate their ability to address and adapt to environmental challenges.
There is still time for the global economy to decisively reduce emissions and enact strategies to safeguard human health from the impacts of climate change. However, it is imperative for policy-makers to recognize and address the insufficient readiness of healthcare systems to mitigate health consequences. Unlike the case with COVID-19, which took governments and the global healthcare industry by surprise, a unique window exists to adapt and prepare healthcare infrastructures, workforces, and supply chains for the escalating impact of the climate crisis. Collaborative efforts involving multiple stakeholders and industries are essential to address these challenges and to achieve a thorough and comprehensive health system transformation.
WATCH: EXPERT TAKEAWAYS ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND HUMAN HEALTH
Oliver Wyman's Oliver Eitelwein talks with Shyam Bishen, Head of WEF’s Health and Healthcare Centre about some of the key findings in the report.
watch: The Urgent Need For Healthcare Infrastructures
Oliver Wyman’s Terry Stone and Rolf Fricker share insights from the panel discussion and address the urgent need for healthcare infrastructures to adapt as climate change impacts human health.