By Finn Hopkins
Dr. Bruno Takahashi, research director at the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism has been involved in the production and publication of a 2022 report that explores the intersection of climate change and public health in South America.
The 2022 South America report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change was published on March 28th, 2023. The Lancet Countdown South America (LCSA) investigates links between public health and climate change in 12 countries in South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and Suriname.
The LCSA is the product of 21 academic institutions and UN agencies with 28 researchers from various disciplines. The 2022 report seeks to provide evidence and support to decision makers to combat the climate challenges facing South America.
The report begins with a focus on the health hazards, exposures, and impacts of climate change in South America. Indicators such as increased temperatures, more frequent wildfires, and a 160% increase in heat-related mortality were noted as dangerous trends in the region. These climate changes pose dangers to the health and food security in South American communities, highlighting the need for plans to combat these alarming findings. These plans, the report states, are currently insufficient.
Adaptation and resilience planning for health in South America is largely underfunded at both local and national levels, putting populations at extreme risk of being impacted by climate change. Climate action plans have been developed by many countries in the region as part of the Paris Agreement, but still fall short in explaining how these goals–such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions–would be met.
Many of these goals would also yield health co-benefits for South American populations. According to the report, they could create more sustainable agricultural and land management systems, reduce fossil fuel dependency, improve air quality, and create cleaner environments for indigenous and local communities.
While there is a price to implementing these plans, the report emphasizes that it is worth the economic cost. In 2020, heat related mortality and ambient air pollution deaths claimed a monetized loss equal to the income of 700,000 people on average, the report found. Decreased labor productivity and increased risk of diseases such as dengue will also negatively affect South American economies if urgent action against climate change is not taken. Increasing affordable access to zero-carbon energy sources and implementing green tax reforms are two recommendations given by the report. These policies combat climate change while simultaneously minimizing potential spikes in energy prices which would harm the region’s most vulnerable populations.
Takahashi led the final section of the report, which focused on the need for public and political engagement. The findings detailed the necessity of engaging with stakeholders at all levels, from local and national governments to private corporations and the scientific community. The media in particular will be crucial in generating action equal to the risk posed by climate change. Despite climate change reaching its highest level of news coverage in 2021, findings show these levels of engagement are still not enough. In South America, access to information is key to reducing social inequities and empowering populations into action, the report concludes.
The full 2022 South America report of The Lancet Countdown can be found here.