I was in Australia recently, where I was pleased to see lots of media coverage of climate change. This is a change; on previous visits, climate change in Oz seemed like a low-level niche interest topic with little mainstream interest. Politicians there seemed to be doing the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and closing their eyes when the topic arose.
Unfortunately, most of the Aussie discussion on climate change was along the lines of "should we be discussing climate change?" in light of the raging bush fires. Right-wing, verging-on-climate-denier politicians were outraged that anyone could think of bringing up climate change at a time like this, when support, thoughts and prayers were what was really needed for the people affected by the fires. This was despite some of those very people raising their voices to say hey, this is climate change! We need to talk about it, and prepare ourselves for future events like these, and worse.
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In New Zealand, I hope, we have long moved past that. As highlighted in a report also released last week in The Lancet, climate change is going to have a serious impact, not only on us but on our kids in the not-too-distant future. It reinforces the inextricable link between a healthy (or unhealthy) planet and healthy people.
The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change is a comprehensive yearly analysis tracking progress and demonstrating what action to meet Paris Agreement targets — or business as usual — means for human health. It's a collaboration between 120 experts from 35 institutions including the World Health Organization, the World Bank and numerous universities.
The impact of climate change on children is front and centre in the report. It's already damaging children's health, the authors say, and is set to shape the wellbeing of an entire generation unless the world meets Paris Agreement targets to limit warming to well below 2C.
If the world doesn't get there — and we keep seeing high carbon emissions and climate change continuing at the current rate — a child born today will face a world on average over 4C warmer by their 71st birthday, threatening their health at every stage of their lives.
How could this play out?
As temperatures rise, crop yields will fall and prices will rise, making infants vulnerable to the burden of malnutrition.
Children, the report says, will be among the most to suffer from the rise in infectious diseases caused by climactic warming.
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As children born now hit adolescence, the impact of air pollution will worsen, causing more illness and disability.
And extreme weather events will intensify as our babies grow up, causing the kinds of events we see happening across the Tasman right now, along with stronger heatwaves.
Our children are the most vulnerable among us to the health risks of a changing climate.
Dr Nick Watts, executive director of The Lancet Countdown, puts it bluntly: "Without immediate action from all countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, gains in wellbeing and life expectancy will be compromised, and climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation."