Global Climate Change and Children’s Health

Read the full story in Pediatrics.

There is broad scientific consensus that Earth’s climate is warming rapidly and at an accelerating rate. Human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, are very likely (>90% probability) to be the main cause of this warming. Climate-sensitive changes in ecosystems are already being observed, and fundamental, potentially irreversible, ecological changes may occur in the coming decades. Conservative environmental estimates of the impact of climate changes that are already in process indicate that they will result in numerous health effects to children. The nature and extent of these changes will be greatly affected by actions taken or not taken now at the global level.

Physicians have written on the projected effects of climate change on public health, but little has been written specifically on anticipated effects of climate change on children’s health. Children represent a particularly vulnerable group that is likely to suffer disproportionately from both direct and indirect adverse health effects of climate change. Pediatric health care professionals should understand these threats, anticipate their effects on children’s health, and participate as children’s advocates for strong mitigation and adaptation strategies now. Any solutions that address climate change must be developed within the context of overall sustainability (the use of resources by the current generation to meet current needs while ensuring that future generations will be able to meet their needs). Pediatric health care professionals can be leaders in a move away from a traditional focus on disease prevention to a broad, integrated focus on sustainability as synonymous with health.

This policy statement is supported by a technical report that examines in some depth the nature of the problem of climate change, likely effects on children’s health as a result of climate change, and the critical importance of responding promptly and aggressively to reduce activities that are contributing to this change.

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