Climate change is already damaging the health of the world’s children and is set to shape the well-being of an entire generation unless the world meets Paris Agreement targets to limit warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius, according to a major new report published in The Lancet.
In Kenya, and throughout Africa, the impacts of climate change on infants are already being felt, and will continue to worsen as temperatures rise:
- Children will be among those most affected by the rise in infectious diseases. For example, the ability of one type of mosquito to transmit dengue fever in Kenya has increased by 20% since the 1950s as a result of a changing climate.
- Climatic suitability for the transmission of malaria continues to increase in highland areas of sub-Saharan Africa such as Nairobi, which are among the most densely populated agro-climatic zones in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Children are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. Crop yield potential has reduced in Kenya for all major crops tracked. Since the 1960s, crop yield potential in Kenya has reduced by 6.4% for maize, 1.5% for winter wheat, 1.1% for spring wheat and 15% for rice.
- In Kenya, 86 million potential labour hours were lost due to heat exposure on average in 2015 -2018. This is a five-fold increase with respect to the average for 2000-2003. Of these hours, some 98% were lost in the agricultural sector.
- Changes in climate have greatly affected Kenya’s livestock systems. Several major droughts since 2000 have affected tens of millions of people and cost billions of dollars in livestock losses, particularly in the arid and semi-arid lands that occupy 80–90 percent of Kenya’s land area. They are expected to increase in frequency and intensity, with particularly severe consequences for vulnerable population groups such as children.
The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change is a comprehensive yearly analysis tracking progress across 41 key indicators, demonstrating what action to meet Paris Agreement targets—or business as usual—means for human health. The indicators are split into climate change a) impact, exposure and vulnerability; b) adaptation, planning and resilience for health; c) migration actions and health co-benefits; d) finance and economics; e) public and political engagement. This year, a new indicator has been added: emissions attributable to livestock and crops. ILRI helped the Lancet Countdown commission track livestock emissions in developing countries.
The project is a collaboration between 120 experts from 35 institutions including the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank, University College London, and Tsinghua University. ILRI helped engage with different food systems and food security parts of Lancet Countdown’s work and is helping disseminate its message to Kenyan audiences.
‘We are delighted that ILRI was able to help The Lancet Countdown in its vital work of advancing the discussion on climate change’, said the International Livestock Research Institute’s (ILRI) director general, Jimmy Smith. ‘It is especially gratifying that ILRI is at the forefront of efforts to find solutions for the livestock sector under climate change that incorporate the perspectives and well-being of people in the developing world’, he added.
‘With its high rates of healthcare inequality, poverty, and food insecurity, the health effects of climate change are going to be felt strongly across Africa’, says Nick Watts, Executive Director of The Lancet Countdown. ‘Dengue and malaria will spread into new areas, a more hostile climate will continue to threaten food security, and without immediate action, climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation’.
Three key messages emerge from the report:
First, the life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change, with populations around the world increasingly facing extremes of weather, food and water insecurity, changing patterns of infectious disease, and a less certain future. Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives.
Second, it is still possible to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Placing health at the centre of the coming transition will yield enormous dividends for the public and the economy, with cleaner air, safer cities and healthier diets.
Third, in order to limit temperature rise, bold new approaches to policy making, research, and business will be needed. It will take the work of many of the 7.5 billion people currently alive to ensure that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate.
Rosemary Sang, a scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) who has closely studied climate-driven diseases endemic to Kenya, says that the report shows the importance of including African perspectives in global surveys of climate change impacts. ‘Past and current economic activities in the West are likely to affect Africa’s future for decades to come,’ she said. ‘We cannot afford to wait on the sidelines for the right decisions to be made; we must lend our voices to those calling for urgent action now.’