Global CO2 emissions: time to mitigate and adapt

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The LancetVolume 377, Issue 9782, Page 1978, 11 June 2011
doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60845-3Cite or Link Using DO
The latest statistics from the International Energy Authority (IEA) on global CO2 emissions should come as a shock. After a dip in global CO2 emissions with the recent economic downturn, they rebounded in 2010 to a record high of 30·6 Gigatonnes (Gt). This is only 1·4 Gt lower than the maximum annual level that the IEA have advised should be heeded by 2020 to avoid dangerous effects of climate change. If the present trend continues, this threshold will be crossed in 2012.
Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the IEA said that the data are a “wake up call”. But these words when applied to climate change seem to have an increasingly soporific effect—the public and politicians have ably demonstrated their ability to be unperturbed by such figures. The lack of an effective globally coordinated policy response means that the 2°C temperature-rise target agreed at the 2010 UN climate change talks in Cancun is likely to be missed. At this stage it would be foolish not to redouble efforts into strategies to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Predicting changes in disease occurrence due to change in climate is essential, and Rita Reyburn and colleagues’ study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene is welcome. The researchers developed a model that uses climatic variables to predict cholera outbreaks. Such outbreaks are likely to become more frequent with global warming and robust models that governments can use to shape a response are a valuable tool. Cholera is only one of many diseases that will be affected by climate change, and predicting the effects of climate on disease should now be a priority for research funding.
However, accurate prediction models are worth nothing by themselves. Governments around the world need to ensure that basic health-care needs are met and infrastructure is in place to rapidly deploy therapies in response to the changes in disease that climate change will bring. We can only hope that the policy responses are more effective in dealing with the outcomes of climate change than they have been with the causes.
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