Governments back fossil fuels despite health risks, study says

Smoke cloud rises from an oil petroleum refinery

A cloud of smoke rises from an oil petroleum refinery.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The world’s addiction to fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas is worsening negative public health impacts, a new report said.

According to the 2022 Lancet Countdown: Health at the Mercy of Fossil Fuels report, which shows the link between climate change and ill health, 69 of the 86 governments that were analysed backed fossil fuel production and consumption and supported fuel subsidies.

This finding comes a few weeks after President William Ruto and his Tanzanian counterpart Samia Suluhu agreed to build a 600-kilometre natural gas pipeline between the two countries.

It also comes at a time when health groups are calling for a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty to ensure that governments vouch for the end of the use and production of fossil fuels.

The report, prepared by 99 researchers from 51 institutions in every continent with an updated 43 new indicators, sets the stage for debate on fossil fuels at the 27th Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27), also known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which starts next week in Egypt.

As a result of the impacts of climate change caused by the use of fossil fuels, the report shows that there is an increased risk of food insecurity, infectious disease transmission, heat-related disease, energy poverty and deaths from exposure to air pollution.

Use of fossil fuels

“Current strategies from many governments and companies will lock the world into a fatally warmer future, tying us to the use of fossil fuels, which are rapidly closing off prospects for a liveable world. This is a result of a deep failure to recognise the need for an urgent re-prioritisation of funding to secure a zero-carbon, affordable, and healthy future,” said Prof Paul Ekins of the University College of London, who co-authored the report.

The analysis shows that about 98 million people reported having moderate to severe food insecurity that comes as a result of higher temperatures, which the report shows threaten crop yields.

“The world is edging closer to multiple tipping points that, once crossed, will drive temperatures well above 2°C. The key conclusion from these findings is that current global actions are insufficient…The Countdown is our best chance of putting health at the centre of a political response to protect human well-being,” Lancet  said in an editorial.

The report shows that carbon dioxide emissions specifically from the burning of fossil fuels increased by six per cent in 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture alone increased by 31 per cent.

“The inaction came with major health costs: fossil fuels contributed to 1·3 million deaths in 2020; the over-dependence on solid fuels, worsened by the energy crisis, increased exposure to indoor air pollution, and consumption of carbon-intensive meat and dairy resulted in 2 million deaths in 2019,” said the report.

Commenting on the findings of the report, the executive director of the Lancet Countdown, Dr Marina Romanello, said the analysis reveals the critical nature of our planet which is affecting our health.

“The climate crisis is killing us. It is undermining not just the health of our planet, but the health of people everywhere —through toxic air pollution, diminishing food security, higher risks of infectious disease outbreaks, record extreme heat, drought, floods and more,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres.