Human-induced changes in the global climate system and in stratospheric ozone pose a range of health risks. Irrespective of actions that might soon be taken to reduce or halt these environmental changes, human populations will be exposed to some degree of climate change and increased ultraviolet irradiation over the coming decades.
Climate change is likely to have wide-ranging and potentially serious health consequences, including various risks to the health of European populations. Some health effects will be direct-acting (such as heat wave-related deaths and ultraviolet radiation-induced skin cancer); others will result from disturbances to complex physical and ecological processes (such as changes in the patterns of infectious disease, in freshwater supplies and in agricultural yields). Effects on the health of the human population are likely to become evident within the coming decade. Capacity must therefore be enhanced for the detection of the early health effects of climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion. This can only be achieved by supporting research, monitoring and assessment.
Failure to reduce fossil fuel combustion (as the principal means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions) will result directly in a continuing burden of mortality and disease from exposure to local air pollution.
Climate change is likely to have serious implications for human health in many countries in Europe. Vulnerable populations need to be identified and adaptive actions taken. For example, countries in northern Europe are vulnerable to an increased incidence of tickborne encephalitis, and countries in southern Europe are vulnerable to an increased local transmission of malaria. Beyond Europe, effects on food and water supplies and a rise in sea level could be catastrophic. Climate change may, therefore, exacerbate current problems in areas near the European Region, such as North Africa and western Asia, and indirectly lead to population displacement.
Managing risks to health requires several steps: awareness that the problem exists; an understanding of what causes the problem; capacity to deal with the cause; a sense that the problem is important; and political will (183). We now need to redefine as unacceptable many of the personal and industrial practices that contribute to the burden of greenhouse gases and thereby pose risks to the health of present and future generations.
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