Intended for healthcare professionals


Efforts to limit global heating to 1.5°C are “well off track,” analysts warn

BMJ 2022; 379 doi: (Published 28 October 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;379:o2598
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. London

Experts are warning that delays to planned climate action are hampering efforts to achieve numerous health benefits, especially for children.

Three reports published in the run-up to the United Nations’ COP 27 climate change conference, which takes place next month in Egypt, all raise concerns about the lack of progress worldwide in taking agreed action to tackle climate change.

The State of Climate Action 2022 report by the Systems Change Lab,1 a coalition of analyst organisations and charities, said that while many countries, companies, and financial institutions had adopted more ambitious commitments to fight climate problems, significantly more action was needed across all sectors to keep within reach of the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C.

The report analysed recent progress made in accelerating climate action across sectors that collectively account for about 85% of global greenhouse gas emissions (power, buildings, industry, transport, forests and land, and food and agriculture) and in scaling up carbon removal technologies and climate finance.

By comparing current efforts to targets required by 2030 and 2050 to limit global heating to 1.5°C, the authors calculated that none of the 40 indicators of system change they assessed was on track to achieve the targets for 2030, and 21 were “well off track.”

The report said, “The years ahead offer an urgent and fleeting opportunity to avoid intensifying climate impacts, as well as additional losses and damages, by holding warming to 1.5°C. Although we are not starting from a standstill, achieving this global temperature limit will require an enormous effort from leaders across systems and around the world.

“The good news is that many of these actions, when implemented appropriately, can generate significant development and societal benefits—cleaner air and waterways, improved public health outcomes, and healthier ecosystems that can continue to deliver services that sustain communities around the world.”

It said that reducing the energy and carbon intensity in the operation of buildings would also yield health benefits through improved indoor air quality and lower energy poverty.

Child rights crisis

In another report Unicef said that the “climate crisis” was rapidly accelerating as heatwaves were becoming longer, stronger, more widespread, and more frequent.2 The climate crisis was also a child rights crisis and was already taking a heavy toll on children’s lives and futures, the agency warned.

By 2050, in both low and very high emission scenarios, the authors warned that almost every child on the planet would be exposed to high heatwave frequency—namely, living in areas where the average yearly number of heatwaves is 4.5 or above.

“The implications for children’s health and wellbeing and the need for adaptation are dramatic,” said the authors of the Unicef report. “The more heatwaves children are exposed to, the greater the chance of developing health problems including chronic respiratory conditions, asthma, and cardiovascular diseases.”

Heatwaves also presented health risks for pregnant and breastfeeding women, they added, because extreme heat was harmful to children in utero and could lead to stillbirth, complications from gestational diabetes, and preterm birth.

Unicef’s executive director, Catherine Russell, said in the report’s foreword, “Children, especially young children, are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of extreme heat, which can cause severe dehydration, respiratory trouble and make them more vulnerable to other diseases.

“Already, around 559 million children worldwide are exposed to high heatwave frequency and we estimate that by 2050, every child on the planet will be exposed to more frequent, longer lasting, and more severe heatwaves.”

In another report by the UN Environment Programme,3 the authors said that despite a decision by all countries at the COP 26 climate summit held in Glasgow last year to strengthen action, progress in emission reductions had been “woefully inadequate.”