Climate change and human health

The Kyoto Protocol: Helping to protect human health

Statement
17 February 2005

The recent entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an opportunity for better protection of human health.

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global temperatures have risen by approximately 0.6oC in the past century, caused mainly by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases. Temperatures are projected to increase between 1.6 and 5.8 oC in the next century, accompanied by sea level rises and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.

The best available evidence suggests that climatic change since the 1970s may already be causing over 150,000 deaths annually, and that unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions would increase disease burdens in the coming decades. The risks are concentrated in the poorest populations, who have contributed least to the problem.

The Kyoto protocol is signed by 128 nations, and commits the participating industrialized countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by over 5% below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012.

"Over 600 thousand people died in weather-related disasters in the 1990s. Temperature and rainfall influence the rates of diseases such as diarrhoea, vector-borne infections including malaria, and malnutrition, which together cause over 3.5 million deaths a year. The Kyoto protocol is a first step towards reducing our impact on the climate system, which exerts such a strong influence on our health", said Dr Kerstin Leitner, Assistant Director-General for Healthy Environments and Sustainable Development.

While acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is also essential to protect vulnerable communities from the effects of climate changes. WHO works to promote measures such as protection from malaria and other climate sensitive diseases, and reliable access to clean water and sanitation, for people in the most vulnerable developing countries. Increasing disease control efforts will also help to protect current and future generations from the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

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"The Kyoto protocol is a first step towards reducing our impact on the climate system, which exerts such a strong influence on our health"

- Dr Kerstin Leitner