Photo by: Pixabay user 5311692

2019 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Policy Brief for the U.S.

11/13/2019 | 2019 Lancet Countdown

Babies born today will face unprecedented health risks and life-long health consequences from rising temperatures, according to new research published in The Lancet. The 2019 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change is a comprehensive yearly analysis tracking the impact of climate change on human health across 41 indicators around the world.  

The U.S. Policy Brief, which accompanies the global report, summarizes  how vulnerable and marginalized populations in the U.S. are disproportionately harmed by the climate crisis, as well as how children are likely to face far greater health impacts from climate change than previous generations. Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency medicine doctor and a Harvard C-CHANGE fellow was the lead author of the U.S. Brief.

Top takeaways:

  • Every child born today will be affected by climate change. How we respond will determine the world we live in tomorrow and will shape the health of children across the globe, at every stage of their lives.
  • Our cities are starting to prepare. 69% of cities across the world are currently developing or have already completed a climate change risk assessment.
  • Governments need to do more. Only 28 countries made the link between health and climate change at the UN General Assembly in 2018.

Some populations, including children, pregnant women, the elderly, and outdoor workers, are more vulnerable than others. 

  • Children: Climate change, and the air pollution from fossil fuels that are driving it, threaten a child’s health starting in their mother’s womb.
  • Pregnant women are at risk for birth complications.
  • Outdoor workers are increasingly exposed to life-threatening heat in the U.S. and urgent action is needed to protect them from further harm.
  • Older adults age 65 and above are especially vulnerable to extreme heat, and as the world warms they are experiencing more dangerously hot days. 

Infographic: Unequal Vulnerability in a Heatwave

If the world follows business-as-usual emissions, here’s how children born today will experience a warming world: 

  • Kids will feel the deadliest impact of disease outbreaks. Children are particularly susceptible to the infectious diseases that rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns leave in their wake.
  • Throughout their lives, extreme weather events will intensify. Children will be put at increased risk of physical and mental harm from severe floods, prolonged droughts, and wildfires.
  • In adolescence, the impact of air pollution will worsen, which is especially damaging to young people whose lungs are still developing. Air pollution contributes to reduced lung function, aggravated asthma, and increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.
  • By their 71st birthday, they will see consequences including food shortages, spread of disease, lack of safe drinking water, increasingly deadly fires and floods, and increasing numbers of days where temperatures and air pollution make it unsafe to go outside.

Infographic: Climate Change Harms the Health of Children


There’s still time for rapid climate action

Despite the scale of the challenge, the report offers reason for cautious optimism. For the world to meet its climate goals and protect the health of the next generation, the energy landscape will have to change drastically, and soon. Nothing short of a 7.4% year-on-year cut in fossil CO2 emissions from 2019 to 2050 will limit global warming to 1.5°C. The U.S. Brief provides adaptation and mitigation recommendations for crafting climate policies. 

To protect our children’s future, climate policies must: 

  • Rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond the Paris Agreement
  • Completely phase out coal
  • Commit to a 100% clean energy goal 
  • Ensure high-income countries invest US$100 billion/year by 2020 to help low-income countries
  • Require low-emission vehicles
  • Create walking/biking paths

To protect our healthcare system policies must invest in:

  • Resilient infrastructure
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Supply chain resilience
  • Surveillance of health impacts
  • Research in how trends will impact health

“The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change Policy Brief for the United States of America,” by Renee Salas, Paige Knappenberger, Jeremy Hess, published November 13, 2019,


2019 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Policy Brief for the U.S.

Every child born today will be affected by climate change. How we respond will shape the health of children across the globe.

Read Now

House Dust in Mining-Impacted Communities May Impact Children's Health

Young children are a particular concern because early exposures to metals commonly found at mining sites are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits.

Read Now

Climate Change and Children's Health

Climate change represents a major threat to child health. This review presents the latest data that demonstrate how climate change affects children's health and to identify the principal ways in which climate change puts children's health at risk.

Read Now

Childhood Asthma Acute Primary Care Visits, Traffic, and Traffic-Related Pollutants

This analysis suggests that traffic is a contributor to more acute asthma episodes in children.

Read Now

Making young minds resilient to disasters

Strategies for building resilience in the face of toxic stress caused by natural disasters.

Read Now

Climate change is harming children's health—and it's going to get worse

On Children's Environmental Health Day, our Co-Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein talked about the health impacts of climate change on kids and how we can join them in taking action.

Read Now

On climate, the young take the lead

Our Co-Director Aaron Bernstein on why we must listen to the next generation as they lead the movement to heal our planet.

Read Now

How climate change is affecting our children's health

Why climate changes health and why children's voices need to be heard when discussing climate solutions.

Read Now

Obama’s EPA Chief: ‘Sometimes you need to listen to the kids’

Our Director Gina McCarthy spoke about inequality, corruption, and the young Americans who've had enough with climate inaction.

Read Now

Children's health adversely impacted by climate change

A primer on the many different ways that climate is a health and equity issue—especially for kids.

Read Now

'Like a sunburn on your lungs': how does the climate crisis impact health?

Our Co-Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein and Research Fellow Dr. Renee Salas share insight into how the climate crisis threatens public health and complicates healthcare.

Read Now

Air-blood barrier in immature lungs more permeable to nanoparticles

Using a rat model, researchers found that newborn lungs may have enhanced susceptibility to inhaled nanoparticles.

Read Now

Climate change-related allergies could put more kids in ER

More children could wind up in emergency rooms because of allergy attacks spurred by climate change, according to experts. A June 6, 2019 article in Yale Climate Connections outlined how rising temperatures caused by climate change are already lengthening allergy season. With spring starting earlier and fall starting later, people are being exposed to pollen…

Read Now

Climate change could make children's allergies worse

Climate change makes allergy seasons longer and more intense. Co-director Dr. Aaron Bernstein weighs in with some solutions.

Read Now

Dr. Renee Salas

Renee N. Salas MD, MPH, MS

Renee's work focuses on the intersection of the climate crisis, health, and healthcare delivery.

View Profile