Germs under the permafrost: too scary?
-Monitoring the permafrost and emissions from it at Zackenberg Station, Greenland, I took the photo in 2009-
„I hope I wasn’t too scary“, said Professor Andrej Grjbovski to me after our panel discussion in Bonn the other night. He works with the Norwegian School of Public Health in Oslo and the Northern State Medical University in his native Arkhangelsk in Russia.
Well I’m not for panic-mongering, but given some of the information our experts were coming out with, maybe you can’t be too scary.
Prof. G. was in Bonn both for the conference at the environment ministry and the public panel discussion. (See links on the Ice Blog 30.11.2010). Amongst other things, he’s involved in a WHO project to monitor the effects of climate change on health in a region of northern Russia.
He was referring in particular to the health dangers from melting permafrost. There are all sorts of dangerous things buried in the permafrost, which come to the surface as it melts. Not for nothing do some people refer to a “timebomb” in the Arctic. After outbreaks of diseases like anthrax, for instance, animals were buried in mass graves. The anthrax spores can survive in there and pose a new threat to health as they emerge again. Yes, Professor, that is definitely in the “scary” category.
But a changing climate poses all sorts of less “spectacular” but nonetheless crucial challenges to health care around the globe. The WHO says the 2003 heatwave killed 70,000 people in Europe. Heatstroke and heart attacks can be fatal to the particularly vulnerable, especially older people. Children and the homeless were also mentioned as amongst the vulnerable population groups.
Floods are another example. Apart from deaths from drowning, there’s the water pollution and fungus left over in the aftermath, which can result in the spread of infectious diseases, respiratory and digestive problems etc.
And of course species are moving to different areas – including, for instance, the mosquito types that are bringing illnesses like Dengue to Europe.
Needless to say – but I’m doing it anyway, sometimes we have to keep reminding ourselves of the obvious – it’s the people in poorer countries or areas who suffer most from the higher health risks through climate change. Germany has an adaptation strategy involving early warning systems for extreme weather events or the spread of infections and flood protection systems. The deputy director of the German meteorology office the DWD Paul Becker told me in an interview capacity building and passing on the necessary expertise to adapt to the health risks posed by a changing climate were the key issues in helping the developing world, whereby finding the necessary funding was probably the main challenge.
Incidentally, on the sidelines of the Cancun talks, Germanwatch published its latest Climate Risk Index. It says more than 650,000 people died in around 14,000 extreme weather events over the last two decades.
DateDecember 7, 2010 | 11:48 am
Climate change – bad for your health?
As the negotiations kick off in Cancun (and the opening speeches seem to repeat the message of low expectations and going for partial compromises discussed in the last blog), I’m looking at this flyer, lying on my desk . The possible impact of climate change and extreme weather events caused by climate change on health is an “in” topic in Bonn this week. The German Environment Ministry, Federal Environment agency, German Meterological Office DWD and the European Office of the WHO are holding a joint two-day symposium. I went to the opening press conference at the Ministry yesterday. There’s more information on the background and the issue of health implications here:
Extreme weather events require precautions and adaptation
Tonight I am chairing a panel discussion here at Deutsche Welle on the same topic, that\’s why the flyer is on my desk. The floods in Pakistan this year and the fires in Russia are amongst the examples being discussed of the type of extreme weather events and disasters likely to be on the increase with a changing climate. Obviously, they have an impact on human health. The spread of diseases to areas where they haven’t been prevalent before, like Dengue fever in Europe, will also be on the agenda.
The discussion is the eighth in a series called the Bonn Dialogues. The city of Bonn is active in the network of cities working to combat climate change. It’s also of course the home of the UNFCCC, now busy in Cancun. And it houses the United Nations University UNU-EHS, the IHDP, International human dimensions programme on global environment change, and the DKKV, that’s the German catastrophe prevention organisation, who are organising the conference. I’ll be interested to hear what our panelists have to say. I’ll keep you posted.
DateNovember 30, 2010 | 12:59 pm
Pre-Cancun ice blog from the banks of the Rhine
This is the icy view from my office at Deutsche Welle on the banks of the Rhine this afternoon. It’s the ice blogger’s favourite weather, although most people around me are complaining it’s too early for snow and asking if it’s got anything to do with climate change.
Meanwhile, in spite of the fact that so many of us have been saying there will be less hype surrounding and attention paid to the Cancun climate talks starting in Mexico on Monday, I’m pleased to say there is still a fair bit of reporting going on. What we saw ahead of Copenhagen was really hype, verging on a kind of Copenhagen-mania at times, and it clearly didn’t help the cause of getting a new global climate agreement at all. But it would be worrying if the media and the public in general just ignored the talks.
Mind you, most people seem to be saying more or less the same thing: Forget the idea of a big breakthrough and just go for a step-by-step pragmatic approach. As one commentator on German radio put it this morning, people (especially those who will be negotiating) seem to be talking Cancun down. That doesn’t mean they don’t think it’s important, but it’s a clear warning that this time, we shouldn’t expect too much. We can still set our sights high, though, can’t we?
As EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard puts it (and she should know, since as Danish climate and energy minister she was a key figure in the Copenhagen conference) “the sense of urgency should not be any less than prior to Copenhagen.”. After all, she told me, given that we’ve seen the hottest 12 months in a row on record, “the chance remains with us. We have to address it. And for each year we postpone action, the more expensive and the more difficult its going to be in the end”. I couldn’t agree with you more, Commissioner. Let\’s hope you and the others round the negotiating table(s) in Cancun will turn that into money on the table for adaptation and forest protection, and ambitious emissions reductions targets.
More on the EU’s stance to let you decide whether it’s good enough on this week’s Living Planet programme. You might also like to read this Interview with EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard, in which she outlines her expectations for the climate conference in Mexico.
DateNovember 26, 2010 | 2:47 pm
Emerging countries moving ahead?
As the Cancun conference approaches, let me draw your attention to an interesting study published by WWF on how the developing world could be putting the rest of us to shame and taking on leadership in combatting climate change.
Emerging Economies- How the developing world is starting a new era of climate change leadership
It looks at Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa and there is some encouraging reading in there.
DateNovember 24, 2010 | 3:45 pm
Science of Climate Change under-reported?
Within the framework of an online discussion forum, Diana Lungu from the European Journalism Centre has drawn my attention to a study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism looking at media coverage of last year’s Copenhagen climate summit. It makes for interesting reading. The author James Painter comes to the conclusion that the actual science was under-reported, with more attention being directed at the hacked a-mail debate.
There’s a useful summary of some of the main results of the study in the Washington Post. The study includes calls for more discussion between scientists, journos and policy makers “on how to keep highly significant, slow-burn issues like climate change interesting and engaging to different audiences around the world”, more media staff to help scientists and more frontline reporting on the effects of climate change. I’m with you on all of those James.
DateNovember 18, 2010 | 1:14 pm