The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as “change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural variability observed over comparable time periods”.
The links between climate change and public health include shifting patterns of disease. For example:
- Diseases such as malaria could affect different countries or geographical areas as the climate warms.
- Food shortages may increase, exacerbating malnutrition-related health problems, as drought-prone areas increase.
- Deaths and health impacts from heatwaves, floods, and storms could rise as weather patterns become more unpredictable.
Global warming is caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases - primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide - in the atmosphere. These gases trap heat and create a rise in global temperature. The last decade has been the warmest this century, indeed the warmest for hundreds of years, and many parts of the world have suffered major heatwaves, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events as a result.
Potential consequences of global warming include changes in rainfall and soil moisture levels, and rising sea levels. There could also be atmospheric changes and increasingly harsh sunshine levels, resulting in as many as 1.7 million cases of cataracts. In addition, some studies indicate that a global mean temperature increase of 1-2°C would enable malaria to extend its range to new geographical areas.