The Lancet Countdown is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration, dedicated to monitoring the evolving health profile of climate change, and providing an independent assessment of the delivery of commitments made by governments worldwide under the Paris Agreement.
The 2019 report presents an annual update of 41 indicators across five key domains: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement. The report represents the findings and consensus of 35 leading academic institutions and UN agencies from every continent. Each year, the methods and data that underpin the Lancet Countdown’s indicators are further developed and improved, with updates described at each stage of this report. The collaboration draws on the world-class expertise of climate scientists; ecologists; mathematicians; engineers; energy, food, and transport experts; economists; social and political scientists; public health professionals; and doctors, to generate the quality and diversity of data required.
The science of climate change describes a range of possible futures, which are largely dependent on the degree of action or inaction in the face of a warming world. The policies implemented will have far-reaching effects in determining these eventualities, with the indicators tracked here monitoring both the present-day effects of climate change, as well as the worldwide response. Understanding these decisions as a choice between one of two pathways—one that continues with the business as usual response and one that redirects to a future that remains ‘‘well below 2°C’’—helps to bring the importance of recognizing the effects of climate change and the necessary response to the forefront.
Evidence provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration clarifies the degree and magnitude of climate change experienced today and contextualizes these two pathways.
Climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerability
A changing climate has profound implications for human health, with more frequent heatwaves and extreme weather events, changing patterns of infectious disease, and the exacerbation of existing health challenges around the world. Indicators in this section measure how these impact on human health.
- In 2018, 220 million more heatwave exposures affecting older populations were observed – 11 million more than the previous record set in 2015, increasing risk of heart stress, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke.
- 152 out of 196 countries saw increases in populations exposed to wildfires from the early 2000s to the present day. India alone experienced an annual daily population wildfire exposure increase of 21.8 million.
- Vectorial capacity for the transmission of dengue was 2nd highest on record in 2017, with 9 of the 10 most suitable years occurring since 2000. The average increase above the 1950s baseline was 7.2% for Aedes aegypti and 9.8% for A. albopictus.
- Crop growth season duration has reduced by 2.9% for maize, 3.8% for winter wheat and 3.1% for soybean crops from 1988 to 2017, with potential implications for global undernutrition.
Adaptation, planning, and resilience for health
Indicators in this section track how communities, health systems, and governments are understanding the health risks of climate change, the strategies and resources they are deploying, and how adaptation and resilience measures are being implemented globally.
- 54% of global cities surveyed in 2018 expected climate change to seriously compromise their public health infrastructure.
- The number of countries providing climate services to the health sector increased from 55 in 2018 to 70 in 2019.
- 109 countries have medium to high levels of national implementation of a responsive health emergency framework – helping them respond to disease outbreaks, air pollution, extreme temperatures, droughts, floods and storms.
- In 2018, global health adaptation spending increased by 11.2%, reaching 5% of total climate change adaptation spending.
Mitigation actions and health co-benefits
Indicators in this section track the world’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the health improvements that result from these interventions.
- The carbon intensity of the global energy system has remained flat since 1990.
- Almost 3 billion people live without access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, and the use of safe and healthy technologies usage remains at just 7.5% of households in low-income countries.
- Red meat from ruminants contributed 3 GtCO2e in 2016 – 93% of total livestock emissions. Plant-rich diets could improve health and help reduce GHG emissions.
- Global healthcare sector greenhouse gas emissions were 4.6% of the global total emissions in 2016.
Economics and finance
Indicators in this section track the economic costs of climate change and its drivers, and the investments and economic tools being used to transition to a low-carbon economy.
- In 2018, 831 climate-related extreme events resulted in US$166 billion in economic losses and no measurable losses in low-income countries were covered by insurance.
- In Europe improvements in particulate air pollution from human activity were seen from 2015 to 2016. If the levels of pollution for these two years remained the same over a person’s lifetime, this would lead to an annual average reduction in Years of Life Lost worth €5.2 billion saved.
- In 2018, investments in zero-carbon energy were 20% of total investments in the global energy system. By 2030 zero-carbon energy investments must account for at least 65% of total annual investments.
- US$2.135 trillion new funds were committed to fossil fuel divestment in 2018. Health institutions accounted for around US$66.5 million of this.
- In 2018, fossil fuel consumption subsidies increased to US$427 billion – over a third higher than 2017 levels, and over 50% higher than 2016 levels.
Public and political engagement
Public and political engagement underpins the foundations of our collective response to climate change. The indicators in this sector track this engagement in the media, national governments, the corporate sector, and the broader public.
- Individuals typically seek information about either health OR climate change. Where they seek information across these areas, it is primarily driven by an initial interest in health-related content.
- National leaders are increasingly drawing attention to health and climate change at the UN General Debate. This trend has been led by small island developing states, who comprised of 36% of the total countries referencing health and climate change in 2018.