Climate Change Blamed for 160,000 Deaths a Year

MOSCOW, Russia, October 1, 2003 (ENS) - Global warming is already responsible for about 160,000 deaths each year from disease and starvation, a British professor of public health told the World Climate Change Conference now underway in Moscow.

Professor Andy Haines, Dean of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told scientists assembled from around the world, "We estimate that climate change may already be causing in the region of 160,000 deaths ... a year."

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Professor Andy Haines is dean of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. (Photo courtesy LSHTM)
"The disease burden caused by climate change could almost double by 2020," said Haines, addressing the gathering on Tuesday.

The warming climate will increase the range and incidence of tropical diseases such as malaria, tick-borne encephalitis, and tropical diseases, Haines said. He warned that malnutrition and starvation will follow extreme weather conditions such as droughts and floods brought on by global warming.

Most of the climate related deaths will occur in developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, he warned, and the youngest sector of the population is most at risk.

"These diseases mainly affect younger age groups, so that the total burden of disease due to climate change appears to be borne mainly by children in developing countries," Haines said.

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Recurrent drought in Ethiopia has brought many children like Aster, aged 10, to the brink of death. (Photo by Melese Awoke courtesy World Food Programme)
Global warming will bring some health benefits, such as lower cold related mortality and greater crop yields in temperate zones, but these will be greatly outweighed by increased rates of other diseases," warned Haines.

Haines, who has been studying the links between public health and climate change for years, warned in a 1996 assessment prepared for the the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme that by 2100 climate change will have increased "substantially" the proportion of the world's population living in potential malaria transmission zones.

Dr. Valentin Meleshko of Russia's Central Geophysical Observatory presented a forecast of climate change in Russia. He warned of increasing droughts in the European part of the Russian Federation, and of changes the the flow of Russia's largest rivers, the Dnieper , Volga and Ob due to thawing of the permafrost – one of the most dangerous consequences of climate change in Russia.

On Monday, Joke Waller-Hunter, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told the delegates, "The effects of climate change will spare nobody on this planet."

She expressed disappointment that Russia has not set even an approximate date for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to limit the emission of six greenhouse gases by industrialized countries.

"I must admit that I had hoped that you would have been more specific, indicating an approximate date for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which would have galvanized the intergovernmental process," Waller-Hunter said. But she expressed confidence in the willingness of Russia to "recognize its responsibility for global multilateral action on a truly global issue, through prompt ratification."

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Outside the conference venue, Greenpeace demonstrators fly a banner in Russian and English demanding that Russia ratify the Kyoto Protocol. (Photo by Vadim Kantor courtesy Greenpeace)
Russia's ratification is essential to bring the protocol into force because the rules require 55 Parties to the UNFCCC to ratify the agreement, including industrialized countries accounting for 55 percent of that group’s carbon dioxide emissions in 1990.

Countries representing 43.7 percent have now ratified, and Russia's 17 percent would make the protocol legally binding.

Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States has backed out of the Kyoto Protocol originally signed under President Bill Clinton. With about five percent of the world's population, the United States emits some 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.

The protocol requires the reduction of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 percent in the 2008-2012 period. Many experts have said these measures are only a first step towards limiting global warming, and much more drastic action is necessary to keep the Earth's climate in a liveable range.

European Union companies are continuing to invest in projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Russia despite the government's hesitation over whether to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, it emerged at the conference today.

During a carbon business forum at the conference, German gas supply firm Ruhrgas announced plans to further extend its financing of a Russian gas pipeline overhaul program, expected to cut emissions equivalent to five million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2007.

Other EU firms also confirmed interest in cooperating with Russian companies.

Ruhrgas and the other western firms are hoping to gain credits for emissions cuts they achieve under the Kyoto Protocol's joint implementation mechanism. In return Russia would save resources, increase export potential and modernize its infrastructure, they point out.

Russian business concerns over the potential for such joint implementation cooperation projects also emerged during the forum.

Andrei Roginko of the Russian joint implementation committee, a nonprofit organization set up to foster projects between western firms and big Russian energy producers and consumers, said he is worried that draft EU rules linking joint implementation projects with the bloc's domestic emissions trading system are too restrictive.

Under the proposals, Russian firms would be prevented from selling credits directly to EU partners. Roginko said it is still "almost impossible to penetrate the market" and that the EU is effectively "erecting protection barriers."

Andrei Marcu of the International Emissions Trading Association, a large group of global firms lobbying for harmonized international emission trading rules, contradicted this. He said that though firms are against the European Commission's proposed cap on selling joint implementation credits into the emissions trading system, the quantitative limit is generous enough that it "probably isn't going to worry us very much."

Firms are more interested in joint implementation credits than those expected to be available through the international country-to-country emissions trading because they are afraid they will be stigmatized for buying into Russian "hot air," Marcu added.

The importance of this conference, organizers said, is in the fact that it signifies formation of a new powerful scientific direction – climate change science - that has developed at the junction of meteorology and climatology, atmospheric physics and chemistry, geoecology, and mathematic modeling.

{ENDS Environment Daily contributed to this report.}