Climate change can kill people by any means. There are obvious things – wildfires, hurricanes and floods – but rising temperatures can also lead to the spread of deadly disease, making food harder to find, and increased risk of conflict.
While we know about these widespread but equally horrifying dangers, efforts to pinpoint the exact number of deaths from climate change remain patchy. A recent study estimated that climate change was responsible for 37% of heat-related deaths over the past three decades. In 2021, Daniel Bressler, a PhD student at Columbia University in New York, estimates that for every extra 4,400 tons of carbon The emitted dioxide will cause a heat-related death by the end of the century. He calls this number the “death cost of carbon.”
Putting a figure on climate deaths is not just an academic exercise. Everyone is dead due to extreme weather events and temperatures, and we can expect this to become more common as the planet continues to warm. If governments want to put in place policies to prevent these deaths, they need an accurate way of measuring the number of deaths and ill health associated with warming. A search is being made to know the true death cost of carbon.
As part of this search, the UK government has made its first attempt to put a figure on the number of deaths from climate change. The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS)—an independent government agency responsible for producing official data—reported hospital and climate-related deaths for the first time. admission in England and Wales. The report covers the years 2001 to 2020, but future reports will be released annually, revealing for the first time detailed information on the health impacts of climate change in the two countries. (Stats for Scotland and Northern Ireland are recorded separately.)
The main finding from this investigation is counterintuitive. The report found that the number of deaths related to warm or cold temperatures actually decreased between 2001 and 2020. On average, 27,755 fewer people die each year from unusually warm or cold temperatures. In other words, climate change could have actually prevented more than half a million deaths in England and Wales over this period. In 2001, there were 993 climate-related deaths per 100,000 people in England and Wales. By 2019, that number had dropped to 771.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are several reasons why the actual number of temperature-related deaths has declined over this period, said Myer Glickman, head of global epidemiology, climate and health at ONS. First, statisticians have come up with a relatively narrow definition of climate-related deaths. They only included deaths from conditions where scientists had previously found a clear link between temperature and disease outcomes, and they also excluded any health conditions that Their analysis did not show a link between temperature and the results. This means that the mortality data does not include deaths caused by violence or natural forces (such as hurricanes, landslides or floods).