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Climate Change and Increased Risk of Global Pandemics

Climate Movement,Digital Climate Action

The COVID-19 pandemic has infected over 770 million people and resulted in more than 6.9 million reported deaths globally. This pandemic has also contributed to a decline in global life expectancy; in the United States alone, life expectancy dropped by about 1.8 years, with larger declines among minority groups. Furthermore, the pandemic has caused indirect health effects. Mental health has deteriorated worldwide, with a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression during the first year of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, global climate change has affected over 7.8 billion people and resulted in more than 1.2 million deaths from reported natural disasters globally. Additionally, climate change has caused indirect health effects. In Bangladesh, the country with the highest pollution levels in 2021, citizens’ life expectancy can be reduced by up to 6.8 years due to air pollution levels of PM2.5 that far exceed World Health Organization (WHO) standards. In contrast, the average American will lose only about 3.6 months of life expectancy due to air pollution.

In a post-COVID-19 world, the risk of another pandemic occurring in the coming decades remains and may even increase. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of pandemics has risen over the past century due to increased travel and global integration, urbanization, land use changes, and greater exploitation of the natural environment. Small-scale outbreaks or large-scale pandemics related to new infectious diseases have increased over the past century and are expected to continue rising over time. Evidence suggests the likelihood of another pandemic occurring within a person’s lifetime is about 17%, and this may increase to 44% in the coming decades. This means that in any given year, the chance of another pandemic is over 2%. With the constant and even accelerating rate of global temperature rise, there is a significant risk that the combined impact of pandemics and the climate crisis will lead to catastrophic events whose effects we can no longer control.

These two major crises, the global pandemic and climate change, are interconnected and influence each other in various ways. Understanding how these two major crises interact will help us develop adequate mitigation and adaptation plans. How can climate change affect the risk of global pandemics?

1. Climate Change and Vector-Borne Diseases

Climate change significantly impacts the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. Higher temperatures and irregular rainfall can create ideal conditions for the development and spread of these disease vectors. For instance, increased temperatures have been shown to accelerate the development of mosquito larvae into adults, which in turn increases the risk of disease transmission like malaria.

2. Climate Change and Zoonotic Diseases

Climate change can also affect the spread of zoonotic diseases, which are diseases transmitted from animals to humans. Changes in rainfall patterns and temperatures can affect animal habitats and behaviors, which can, in turn, influence the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. According to a study, 58% of human infectious diseases can be exacerbated by climate change, and the largest number of diseases worsened by climate change involve vector-borne transmission, such as those spread by mosquitoes, bats, or rodents.

3. Climate Change and Water Availability

Climate change can impact the availability and quality of water, affecting the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera. Increasing global temperatures will lead to higher water vapor levels in the atmosphere, reducing water availability in the soil, especially during dry seasons. Climate phenomena such as the increased frequency of El Niño in 2023-2024, recorded as the driest and hottest years in many parts of the world, reinforce this risk.

4. Climate Change and Food Security

Climate change can also impact food security and nutrition, which can affect immunity and vulnerability to disease. For example, the El Niño phenomenon in 2023-2024 caused extreme droughts, impacting agricultural yields. This drought stressed food crops and reduced the effectiveness of fertilization, hindering growth. As a result, the productivity of crops such as rice, corn, soybeans, and others may decrease significantly. This food crisis has led to the suspension of food exports from almost all major food-exporting countries and increased food prices worldwide.

In facing these two major crises, the global pandemic and climate change, we must understand that they are interconnected and influence each other in various ways. We cannot focus on one challenge and ignore the other. Instead, we must take a holistic and integrated approach to address both challenges. This means strengthening our health systems to respond to pandemics while also taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. Only in this way can we ensure a healthy and sustainable future for all. Let us all contribute to this effort and create the change we desire. Because, as we know, there is only one Earth, and we all have a part in taking care of it.


Meiardhy Mujianto

“We live on this planet as if we have another one to go to.”

-Terri Swearingen

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Climate Movement,Digital Climate Action
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