Global Change and Human Health

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 64-75

First online:

Global Climate Change — the Latest Assessment: Does Global Warming Warrant a Health Warning?

  • RT WatsonAffiliated withDepartment of Environment World Bank, Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development
  • , AJ McMichaelAffiliated withDepartment of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

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Global climate change is a qualitatively distinct, and very significant, addition to the spectrum of environmental health hazards encountered by humankind. Historically, environmental health concerns have focused on toxicological or microbiological risks to health from local exposures. However, the scale of environmental health hazards is today increasing; indeed, the burgeoning human impact on the environment has begun to alter global biophysical systems (such as the climate system). As a consequence, a range of larger-scale environmental hazards to human population health has emerged. This includes the health risks posed by climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity, stresses on terrestrial and ocean food-producing systems, changes in hydrological systems and the supplies of freshwater, and the global spread of persistent organic pollutants. Appreciation of this scale and type of influence on human health entails an ecological perspective — a perspective that recognises that the foundations of long-term good health in populations reside in the continued stability and functioning of the biosphere's "life-supporting" ecological and physical systems.