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How Screwed Is The Rest Of The World?

Via Ezra Klein at his new Washington Post home, here's the final report of a year-long study done by The Lancet and the University College London, looking at the global health impacts of climate change. Short version: This could get hideous.

Ezra pulls out one particularly striking set of maps from the study, reposted below. On the top you see different countries sized according to their greenhouse-gas emissions (so the United States, Europe, and China are all massive). But on the bottom are all the countries sized according to how many additional climate-change-related deaths they'll see—notice they're all clumped in Africa, South Asia, and South America. And if you thought Pakistan was a barrel of laughs now, just wait until the mortality rate starts rising rapidly:


So how will global warming cause all this? A few things. Heat waves are likely to cause additional deaths—up to 70,000 extra people died in Europe in 2003 because of a hotter-than-average summer, and places like India are even worse-equipped to handle particularly brutal hot spells. Disease vectors will shift, too, which could increase the spread of ailments like malaria or dengue fever. Then there's the food and water angle: Newer studies are finding that a 1C increase in temperatures can decrease crop yields up to 17 percent; and unless adaptation measures are taken, some 250 million people in Africa could face water shortages by 2020 as a result of increased drought.

Oh, we haven't even gotten into the flooding and storms yet… Just check out ClimateWire's excellent long series on the future of Bangladesh. Or this new World Bank report on how sea-level rises and increased storm surges are likely to affect different parts of the world. As Jonathan Hiskes notes, the short version is that Latin America loses the most land; the Middle East sees the most people displaced; and East Asia gets hit the hardest economically. (China, for instance, could see a $31 billion chunk of its coastal economy swept away; meanwhile, a stunning 38 percent of Pakistan's GDP is at risk.)

The Lancet editorial on this is worth reading. There's the usual stuff about how we need to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions drastically to prevent more than a 2C average temperature rise. We've rehashed that argument plenty. But, of course, even that increase will have a whole host of nasty effects, so adaptation is still going to be a big hassle, especially since we're talking about countries that have dismal public-health systems. The worst part, meanwhile, is that there's barely even been much attention paid to this aspect of climate change: "there is a massive gap in information, an astonishing lack of knowledge about how we should respond to the negative health effects." Um, that would be a good thing to change.

--Bradford Plumer