When will the climate change lobby finally realise that it is undermining its own arguments through hyperbole? Yesterday, the Lancet published its latest climate change ‘indicators’, accompanied by a comment piece in the Guardian by Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and now chair of the Lancet Countdown advisory board. The piece, headed 'Climate change isn’t just hurting the planet – it’s a public health emergency' makes the assertion that climate change is affecting 'the health of you, your family, your neighbours – each and every one of us.'
If you are puzzled as to how to square this with data from the WHO which shows steady declines this century in global mortality in infection diseases, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and respiratory diseases, don’t worry – I couldn’t either. Reading the Lancet’s report didn’t provide much enlightenment.
One of the Lancet’s indicators – and which Figueres chose to quote in her Guardian piece – is the number of people exposed to heatwaves. This, it claims, has risen by 125 million between 2000 and 2016. Yet this means nothing without taking into account the rise in the global population over the same period – which has increased from 6 billion to 7.5 billion. Regardless of what is happening to the climate, it is inevitable that more people are going to be exposed to vagaries of the climate simply because there are more people.
Another indicator claims that the number of undernourished people in the '30 most vulnerable countries’ has increased from 398 million in 1990 to 422 million today. Again, surely the number of people exposed to hunger is also is large part a function of global population. And why pick out the 30 most vulnerable countries, rather than the global figure for undernourishment, which the UN Food Programme estimates fell from 900 million in 2000 to 815 million in 2016? In percentage terms, 14.7 per cent of the world’s population went hungry in 2000, compared with 11 per cent in 2016. While there was a sharp rise in 2016, the UN Food Programme attributes it not just to weather but also to a rise in conflicts and to a decline in commodity prices which afflicted the economies of countries such as Venezuela heavily dependent on those industries – ironically people went hungry because of low oil prices.
None of this means, of course, that carbon emissions are not a problem which the world needs to deal with, but to try to make out, as Figueres and the Lancet do, that the world’s population is suffering a climate-induced health emergency is just scaremongering. Read the small print of the Lancet report and some indicators have stubbornly refused to behave in line with its alarmist narrative. It had to admit, for example, that the number of people affected by floods has fallen over the course of this century – in spite of a rise in global population. As for climate refugees – forced to move home because of climate change – the Lancet managed to identify a mere 4400 over the entire globe.
The one genuine health emergency quoted by Figueres – 6.5 million annual deaths globally from air pollution – does indeed demand a serious policy response towards cleaner energy. But it is also a demonstration of why governments should not panic into action. It was an obsession with cutting carbon emissions, after all, which led the EU, and Britain, to back a switch to diesel cars, and to subsidise wood-burning power plants, which we are only now coming to realise are among the most lethal generators of air pollution.