Climate change poses a ‘serious health risk’ to the most vulnerable in Wales, Chief Medical Officer warns

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An increase in unusual weather events, such as extreme heat, cold and flood events, is likely to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable living in deprived areas and exacerbate already prevalent public health inequalities, Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales warns in his annual report.

The report, which looks at the second year of the pandemic as well as to the challenges that lie ahead, warns that we can only respond to the impacts of climate change through mitigating and adapting.

Mitigation includes reducing the sources of harmful greenhouse gases, whilst adaptation is about individuals, organisations and communities understanding and making changes to respond to the likely impacts of climate change.

CMO Frank Atherton commented: “The public health argument for taking action to address climate change now is strong.

“Climate change will increasingly dominate our lives in the foreseeable future and the benefit of effective interventions would far outweigh their cost

“We know the pandemic has disproportionately affected the most deprived areas in Wales and had the greatest impact on our ageing population.

“We must do everything in our powers to ensure climate change doesn’t have similarly devastating consequences.”

The report is made up of four chapters focusing on:

  • How climate change will become a pressing public health issue increasingly dominating our lives.
  • Wales’s population continuing to grow and becoming a predominantly ageing population with a decreasing working-age population
  • The impact of the pandemic on the most deprived areas of Wales, mortality rates and life expectancy.
  • How the health and social care system responded to the pandemic, both the strain it was under, and also the lessons learnt and new ways of working.

Climate Change Minister Julie James added: “Climate change is the biggest emergency we face. Our Chief Medical Officer is now raising the alarm on how it will directly impact public health in his report published today.

“Our ambitious plans to achieve a Net Zero Wales and decarbonise the NHS have put us on a path to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change and protect our most vulnerable communities from bearing its brunt.

“But this requires action from us all. Only by working together in a Team Wales effort can we achieve a healthy, happy and green Wales for our future generations to enjoy.”

‘Chief Medical Officer: annual report 2021 to 2022’ is available on the Welsh Government website.