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In July, scientists with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies released a startling finding: Each of the first six months of 2016 were the warmest occurrences of their respective months in modern history.

Then in mid-November, as higher temperatures continued round the globe, the World Meteorological Organization announced it was likely that 2016 would turn out to be the hottest year ever recorded.

The new findings emphasize what science has increasingly documented in recent years: Climate change is already affecting the environment and it is increasingly causing harm to human health.

While some people think of climate change as something that is far off in the future, “it is impacting people right now,” according to APHA member David Fukuzawa, MSA, MDiv, managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s Health and Human Services Program. Through its environmental program, the foundation is working to help communities build resilience and protect public health in the face of climate change.

“The impact on human health needs to be elevated in the discussion on climate change.

Armed with growing evidence and calls for action, APHA declared in November that 2017 will be the Year of Climate Change and Health. Made possible in part through the support of the Kresge Foundation, the observance will be used to increase understanding on climate change by harnessing the strength of the public health and environmental workforce.

“We want APHA members to protect their communities from the health impacts of climate change,” said Natasha DeJarnett, PhD, MPH, APHA’s environmental health policy analyst. “To do that, we need to expand understanding.”

The Year of Climate Change and Health is being recognized at an important time in human history. As global temperatures continue to rise, public health officials are concerned about the link to human health, both now and in the future. From 2030 to 2050, about 250,000 additional people are expected to die every year from the effects of climate change, such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea, according to the World Health Organization.

If global emissions remain steady, by 2100, global temperatures could be 2.6-4.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected. And those temperatures may be underestimated, a new study warns. Published in November in Science Advances, the study predicts that a rise of 5.9 degrees Celsius is likely by 2100, based on the way carbon dioxide levels rise during warm weather.

Global temperatures in 2016 were already about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to November’s preliminary data from the World Meteorological Organization.

“The only way out is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,” said Tobias Friedrich, PhD, of the University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center, who was lead researcher on the Science Advances study.

Global leaders are working to do just that under the Paris Agreement, a treaty that entered into force in November. As of November 20, more than 110 countries and other parties had ratified the treaty, which has a goal of keeping the average global temperature rise from pre-industrial times below 2 degrees Celsius.

While the U.S. committed to the Paris Agreement under President Barack Obama this summer and submitted its climate plan to the United Nations, America’s work to combat climate change is uncertain under the new presidential administration. Under his campaign energy plan, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to cancel the Paris Agreement and end Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which spells out ways in which the U.S. is working to cut carbon pollution.

At a November 15 news conference, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had spoken to Trump since the election about the importance of climate change and would be doing so again. Ban said he remained “very optimistic” about efforts to combat climate change.

“The global unity around climate change once seemed to be unthinkable, but now it has become unstoppable,” said Ban, who spoke at the conclusion of COP22, a session of the Conference of the Parties that served as the first official meeting of parties to the Paris Agreement.

Even if action on climate change does stall at the federal level, much can be accomplished at the state and local levels, according to APHA member Linda Rudolph, MD, MPH, co-director of the Climate Change and Public Health Project in the Public Health Institute’s Center for Climate Change and Public Health.

Rudolph encouraged health advocates to work to preserve gains that have been made at the federal level, but to also look toward their communities and regions for action on climate change. She pointed to grassroots work in Oakland, California, last year that successfully led to the rejection of a coal export terminal, which could have affected the health of people both locally and around the world through its contributions to air pollution.

Residents of other states are taking action as well. Across the nation, local leaders and advocates are preparing for climate change and reducing vulnerability, according to a November report from Abt Associates.

“Waiting does not guarantee more or better information, but it does waste valuable time, as vulnerability reduction is a long-term process”.

 

Source: The Nation’s Health

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