In a dire assessment of the human energy strategy, an international team of experts said Wednesday that over-reliance on fossil fuels is exacerbating the health effects of global crises such as climate change, pandemics and food security.
As health systems deal with the fallout from Covid-19, the analysis finds that the vast majority of countries are still setting aside hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuels, often amounting to amounts that match or exceed their health budgets.
The Lancet’s annual countdown on health and climate change found that extreme heat – made more bearable by global warming from fossil fuel emissions – now leaves nearly 100 million more people facing extreme food insecurity, compared to 1981-2010.
She said the global land area affected by severe drought has increased by about a third in the past 50 years, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk of water insecurity.
“Climate change is already having a negative impact on food security, with worrying implications for malnutrition and undernourishment,” said Elizabeth Robinson, director of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics and principal contributor to Countdown.
“Further increases in temperature, frequency and intensity of weather extremes, and carbon dioxide concentrations will put further pressure on the availability of and access to nutritious food, especially for the most vulnerable.”
Robinson said the supply shocks from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February highlighted the world’s vulnerability to food chain disruptions.
The assessment showed that heat-related deaths increased by 68% between 2017-2021 compared to 2000-2004, and human exposure to high-risk fire days increased by 61% over similar time periods.
The report showed that climate change is also affecting the spread of infectious diseases.
For example, the appropriate length of time for malaria transmission has increased by almost a third (32.1%) in some parts of the Americas, and 14.0% in Africa over the past decade, compared to 1951-1960.
Moreover, the countdown showed how governments themselves contribute to health crises in the form of fossil fuel subsidies.
It was found that 69 of the 86 governments analyzed support fossil fuel production and consumption, for a net total of $400 billion in 2019.
As fossil fuel companies post record profits and consumers struggle with soaring energy bills, the Lancet report said the plans of the 15 largest oil and gas companies run counter to safe levels of global warming.
It found that companies were about to produce more than twice their share of greenhouse gas emissions consistent with 1.5°C of warming by 2040. Capping warming at 1.5°C is the most ambitious target of the Paris climate agreement.
At the current rate, it would take 150 years to completely decarbonize the energy system, a far cry from the international 2050 goal of net zero.
“Current strategies from many governments and corporations will lock the world into a fatally warmer future, locking us in on fossil fuel use that is rapidly closing prospects for a livable world,” said Paul Ekins, professor of resources and politics at University College. London Bartlett School.
He said the climate and health emergencies were the result of a “profound failure” by governments to recognize the urgency of working towards a carbon-neutral world.
The authors called for a “health-centered response” to the energy, cost of living, and climate crises.
Improving air quality will help prevent deaths from fossil fuel exposure, of which there were 1.3 million in 2020 alone.
The authors said that accelerating the move toward plant-based diets would reduce 55% of agricultural emissions and prevent up to 11.5 million diet-related deaths annually.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in response to the report that the world’s “addiction” to fossil fuels was “out of control”.
“The science is clear: tremendous common sense in renewable energy and climate resilience will secure healthier, safer lives for people in every country.”