Increased waterborne diseases, higher rates of skin cancer, overheating, injuries from extreme weather-based events.
These are some of the possible effects that climate change will have on the health of people in Ireland as temperatures rise and the country faces warmer, wetter and more unpredictable weather.
According to the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is already having a disruptive effect on the lives of people around the world.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet.” said Hans-Otto Pörtnerco-chair of the working group behind the latest IPCC report.
“Any further delay in coordinated global action will miss a short and rapidly closing window to ensure a viable future.”
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned last week that the last seven years have been the warmest on record, global sea levels have reached a new record high in 2021, and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have reached record levels.
Human well-being is already suffering because of this. In northern India and Pakistan lightning heat Since late April it has been considered a major threat to human health, with officials warning of an acute water shortage.
Unicef, the United Nations humanitarian organization for children, said recently that the climate crisis was among the factors that exacerbated the global crisis in child malnutrition.
While Ireland remains shielded from the worst effects of the climate crisis, there are warnings that as the planet continues to warm, people’s health will suffer here as a result.
Negative health effects
In a 2017 report on the potential effects of climate change in Ireland, researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the country is likely to see the following:
- Increases in global warming related effects
- Decreases in cold weather effects
- Increases in food-related issues
- Increases in flood-related issues
- Increases in waterborne diseases
- Increases in respiratory diseases due to changes in pollen and pollutants
In a separate 2019 reportthe Department of Health said the potential health effects are far-reaching, and may include “… deaths, injuries, respiratory illness, heat stroke, poisoning, waterborne illness, infectious diseases, malnutrition, mental illness.”
According to Dr. Ina Kelly, president of the HSE’s Public Health Medical Environment and Blood Group, potential impacts on humans will be widespread.
“Air pollution is still likely to continue during climate change because warming is expected and it is likely to become longer and more difficult,” she said. The Journal.
“During hot weather there will then be wildfires, for example, where a lot of burning can occur and people in an area will be really exposed to the air pollution from that.”
Overheating will also become more common during heat, Dr. Kelly said, as will people who are more exposed to the sun.
“If the weather is milder, people will be more exposed to the sun – they will be more exposed to the sun.
“So it’s important that they realize that many of us have skin types that are very vulnerable to skin cancers … so we need to think about not letting our skin burn.”
Water pollution and severe weather
As well as heat waves, Dr Kelly said climate change could result in an increase in the prevalence of waterborne diseases in Ireland, such as those caused by the bacteria E-coli.
Ireland already has the highest rate of verotoxigenic E-coli in the EU, which can cause severe illness, especially in children under five and the elderly. The bacteria originate in the intestines of sheep and cattle, and one of the most common routes of transmission to humans is through contaminated water supply.
Some of the potential effects of climate change – including flooding, drought and increased temperatures – could result in a higher prevalence of verotoxigenic E-coli and other harmful waterborne pathogens.
“Flooding could move pathogens into water that has not been polluted before, and drought is another way they could spread as people start using poorer water supplies,” Dr. Kelly said.
“Besides, the longer organisms live in the environment, the more likely they are to be brought somewhere.” If they don’t die quickly, then they can travel a much longer distance than you would expect.
“It’s all about these things, and we think that with warmer weather many of these organisms may not be eliminated, they may survive in the environment longer and may end up in a water system that we wouldn’t think of, eventually. ”
An increase in the number of severe weather events is also likely to continue in the coming years, as a result of climate change, and Dr Kelly said this will have an impact on health care.
“Another thing that can happen is severe weather events like storms, the more often you have those, the more likely you are to have major disruptions in our vital infrastructure,” she said.
“And that can then affect how an ambulance can’t cross an area on time, so someone could die because it can’t reach the hospital, for example.”
As well as the negative health effects of climate change, experts are also pointing out some of the potential positive effects that mitigating actions can have on health in Ireland.
In its 2019 research article, the Department of Health lists a number of positives that may emerge as Irish society adapts and tries to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
These include a reduction in pollutants from domestic solid fuel combustion, such as coal or turf, leading to better air quality, as well as a reduction in pollutants from industrial sources.
The report also noted that there could be an increase in people consuming diets consisting of low greenhouse gases, and an increase in active travel such as walking or cycling.
These factors may lead to improvements in public health as the Irish economy and society move away from fossil fuels and work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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In its submission to the public consultation for the government’s 2021 Climate Action Plan, the HSE’s Public Health Environment and Health Group has outlined a number of areas to be addressed in terms of health care and climate action policies.
These include ensuring a “Health in All Policies” approach to government, in which the health implications of all policy decisions across the various sectors of the Irish economy are taken into account.
The group also called for the impact of climate policy on people’s mental health to be taken into account, and to ensure a fair transition away from fossil fuels for the most marginalized communities in Irish society.
“I think we have to make decisions whether to leave people or not.” said Dr. Kelly.
“And I think as a society we don’t want to leave people behind; from a health point of view this is not good, it is very bad. So we can’t afford to leave people with unbearable losses.
“Especially for the basics they require: a roof over our heads, a temperature you can live with, enough clean water, and all the basics we all need; food, water, heat, shelter and security.
“They’re all the basics we need, and we need to make sure everyone gets them, too.”
This work is also co-funded by Journal Media and a European Parliament grant program. All opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are those of the author. The European Parliament has no involvement or responsibility for the editorial content published in the draft. For more information, see here.