Fact check: Climate change effects result in deaths

climate change

WHO estimates that climate change is likely to cause around 250,000 deaths annually from 2030 to 2050.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Climate change has in recent years been declared a major challenge and as a global emergency amid increasing cases of climate disasters that have led to the death and displacement of thousands of people.

As the world seeks ways to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change, some have resorted to spreading climate misinformation. One recently said climate change has never killed anyone.

In a Twitter post on March 11, 2023, which was re-tweeted by 38 Twitter users and liked 119 times, a user wrote: “Climate change has never killed anyone.. but Planned Parenthood and Fentanyl are killing millions…”

This claim is false. Here is why.

On November 7, 2022, the Europe Regional Director for the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Hans Henri Kluge said in a statement that “Climate change is already killing us, but strong action now can prevent more deaths.”

He explained that heat stress, which occurs when the body cannot cool itself, is the leading cause of weather-related death in the European Region.

Further, “temperature extremes can also exacerbate chronic conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular diseases, and diabetes-related conditions.”

He explained that at least 15, 000 people in Europe died due to heat in 2022. This figure comprises about 4,000 deaths in Spain, at least 1,000 in Portugal, at least 3, 200 in the United Kingdom, and around 4,500 deaths in Germany.

“This estimate is expected to increase as more countries report excess deaths due to heat. For example, France's National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) reported that more than 11, 000 more people died between 1 June and 22 August 2022 compared with the same period in 2019 – the last year before the Covid-19 pandemic. INSEE suggested that these figures were “likely to be explained by the heat wave that occurred in mid-July, after an initial heat wave episode as early as mid-June,” said Dr Kluge.

“Over the following decades, growing exposure and vulnerability to heat waves and other extreme weather events will lead to more diseases and deaths unless countries take truly drastic adaptation and mitigation measures to tackle climate change.”

In another article, WHO explains that climate change is known to have an impact on clean air, food security, drinking water, and secure shelter.

WHO estimates that climate change is likely to cause around 250,000 deaths annually from 2030 to 2050 through malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

These deaths, says WHO, will likely cause damages to the health sector worth at least 2 billion dollars a year.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also states that “between 1979 and 2018, the death rate as a direct result of exposure to heat (as an underlying cause of death) generally hovered between 0.5 and 2 deaths per million people, with spikes in certain years.

Overall, a total of more than 11,000 Americans have died from heat-related causes since 1979, according to death certificates.”

EPA further explains that there was a peak in heat-related deaths in 2006, a year that saw widespread heat waves and was recorded as one of the hottest years in the United States.

The UNDP also echoes that climate change results in deaths, and even notes that “the impact of climate change on health if carbon emissions remain high, could be up to twice as deadly as cancer in some parts of the world.”

“The data shows that climate change could increase mortality rates in Faisalabad, Pakistan by nearly 67 deaths per 100,000 populations – causing more fatalities than strokes, the country’s third leading cause of death. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, however, higher incomes could keep the death toll to 35 per 100,000, which is still deadlier than Alzheimer’s disease – the sixth leading cause of death globally. More frequent and severe temperature extremes also impact livelihoods, affecting the ability to perform tasks and influencing work intensity and duration,” says the UN.

The claim that ‘climate change has never killed anyone’ is, therefore, False.

- This fact check was produced by Nation with support from Code for Africa’s Pesa Check, International Fact-Checking Network, and African Fact Checking Alliance Network.