The high number of people who die in Ireland during the winter months – particularly as a result of respiratory disease and heart failure – may reduce thanks to global warming, an all Ireland conference on health implications of climate change was told today.
The conference, organised by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) was told Ireland has particularly high numbers of deaths during winter months – largely ascribed to poor insulation in homes and fuel poverty – when compared to other European countries.
Addressing how climate change may affect health in Ireland, NUI Maynooth lecturer John Sweeney said with a rise in temperatures, it may be expected that fewer elderly and infirm people will die during the winter.
But the conference also warned the close association between mortality and temperatures could work the other way around, with Professor Sweeney pointing out that high temperatures recorded in Kilkenny in 2003 were closely followed by elevated levels of mortality. In fact, he said the European heat wave that year had been responsible for the deaths of some 35,000 people.
The co-chair of the UK Climate and Health Council, Prof Mike Gill told the conference in the College of Physicians in Dublin that up to now the climate change debate has been mainly about environmental or economic issues, but all the predicted damage and disruptions have considerable health effects as well.
“Just as public health professionals should have been more alert earlier to the obesity epidemic, now we should be collaborating with colleagues in other disciplines and sectors to plan for and respond to the health dimensions of climate change,” he warned. In terms of climate change mitigation such as better building regulations and insulation, what is good for the climate is good for health,” Professor Gill concluded.
The head of the Sustainable Development Commission in Northern Ireland, Jim Kitchen, cited clear links between climate change and health. “Using cleaner energy can help in reducing respiratory disease, encouraging people to use public transport, cycling and walking can help reduce cardiovascular diseases; and promoting sustainable diets will help in tackling obesity and diabetes,” he said.