Evidence continues to mount that global warming will have devastating consequences on human health.
A 2006 report by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern had said climate change had the potential to shrink the global economy by between 5 and 20 percent, causing a similar impact to the Great Depression.
AdvertisementA 2005 study by the World Health Organization indicated that global climate change was directly tied to increased rates of malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea.
It estimated that climate change contributed to 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year.
Now Tony McMichael, from Australia's Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, says increased wildfires, droughts, flooding and disease stemming from climate change posed a much more fundamental threat to human wellbeing than economic impacts.
"While we embark on more rapid reduction of emissions to avert future climate change, we must also manage the now unavoidable health risks from current and pending climate change," said McMichael, who co-authored a study in the British Medical Journal.
"This will have adverse health effects in all populations, particularly in geographically vulnerable and resource-poor regions," he said.
But McMichael said climate shift would bring changes to the pattern of infectious diseases, the effect of worsening food yields and loss of people's livelihoods.
While it was unlikely to spawn entirely new types of diseases, it would impact on the frequency, range and season patterns of many existing disorders, with between 20 and 70 million more people living in malarial regions by 2080, he said.
And the impact would be hardest in poor countries, said the researchers, including co-author Sharon Friel from the Australian National University, Tony Nyong from Nigeria's Jos University and Carlos Corvalan of the World Health Organization.
Infectious diseases cannot be stabilized in circumstances of climatic instability, refugee flows and impoverishment," McMichael said. "Poverty cannot be eliminated while environmental degradation exacerbates malnutrition, disease and injury."
McMichael said immediate decision-making was needed to involve health professionals in planning for the impact of climate change.
Kevin Parton, from Australia's Charles Sturt University, said the report was a wake-up call that the world needed to be doing more to eradicate diseases such as malaria.
"The health risks are massive, and the best way to mitigate them is to minimize the extent of climate change. Global community health is the climate change issue," he said.