In 2015, The Lancet, one of the world’s premier medical journals, released a landmark volume on the connections between health and climate change developed by an international, multidisciplinary commission. The Commission on Health and Climate Change concluded that “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.” This week, The Lancet launches a long-term effort to build on the commission’s work with a new initiative called the Lancet Countdown: tracking progress on health and climate change.
As written in the new article introducing the Countdown, its goal is “to track the health impacts of climate hazards; health resilience and adaptation; health co-benefits of climate change mitigation; economics and finance; and political and broader engagement.” A working group will focus on developing each of these five focus areas. (I am in the working group on political and broader engagement). The article further explains:
“The next 15 years, from 2016 to 2030, are a crucial window that will determine the trajectory of climate change and human development for the coming century. As part of this transition, countries will have to undergo a shift from understanding climate change solely as a threat, to embracing the response to climate change as an opportunity for human health and wellbeing. Tracking and communicating this transition will be the central focus of the Lancet Countdown.”
One of the important aspects of the process is that it is multidisciplinary. Authors and contributors to the new report include experts in the medical professions, global health, climate modeling, food security, international security, intergovernmental organizations such as the World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organisation, and other fields. Together, the group has developed a series of indicators each working group will track over the next 15 years, and we will refine those indicators in the coming months.
The tracking process will make several important contributions. We intend to use it to show how the world is adapting to climate change as it relates to public and global health. The Countdown group will visualize and communicate the trends it sees annually in advance of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties meetings. The process should also spark new collaborations, and share best practices from around the world.
For the security community, the Countdown process should help us as we continue to build our understanding of how armed forces may be affected by disease and health trends as they are impacted by the changing climate, and how climate-health trends may shape defense and development missions.
However, it has been difficult to identify quantifiable inputs to track progress on security as related to the health-climate change nexus. The Countdown includes relevant indicators on natural disasters, food security, and other issues that can affect security. It is more difficult to quantify and trace a climate change connection to events such as defense forces needed to conduct a major response to the Ebola outbreak, servicemen and -women being stricken by Zika and other diseases, and how climate contributions to global health challenges may affect the security community in the future.
We need your help! There will be a 3 month consultation process, beginning with this week’s release, for gathering input on what indicators might be useful. Email us (cparthemore -at- climateandsecurity.org) with any advice on indicators that would help illustrate the diplomatic and security implications of or responses to climate-health challenges.