Climate change could wipe out 50 years of public health benefits unless we take urgent action to stop global warming, leading medical authorities warn.
The World Health Organization, along with more than 30 other global institutions collaborating on a new report for the medical journal Lancet, say climate change will have a significant impact on children born today.
Raising 4C at the planet's temperature as these children turn 70 will have a devastating impact on the environment, increasing the risk of illness, hunger and stress-related mental health problems, the study said.
But it is clear that immediate action to halt global warming could dramatically improve children's life prospects.
Dr Nick Watts, executive director of the Lancetz countdown on health and climate change, told Sky News: "Globally, if we continue on the current trajectory, climate change is nearing the erasure of the last 50 years of the benefits we have seen in public health.
"It is not one of the impacts of climate change that we are concerned about.
"We are not just concerned about heat waves and what they do through heart disease or kidney disease.
"And we're not just worried about malnutrition.
"We are concerned about what is going on with the community, with the population, with the child born today, when they are hit again and again from different angles.
"It has a lifelong impact."
The report warns that rising temperatures will:
- increase the spread of diseases such as fever, dengue fever caused by mosquitoes and highly contagious diarrhea caused by vibrio bacteria
- Reduce yields for major crops such as wheat, rice and maize by 4-6% as the world population grows, increasing the risk of malnutrition and rising prices.
- Intensify heat waves, with deaths from extreme temperatures in the UK rising from 2,000 to 7,000 a year by the 2050s.
It also warns that there will be an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder caused by severe flooding.
Dr Watts said: "The impact is much more than just extreme weather events.
"When you build a health system like the NHS, you do it assuming the environment is stable.
"We can no longer hold that assumption.
"The environment is changing and there is a risk that the health system will be overwhelmed."
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The report calls on world leaders to follow the UK's lead and commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 – when a child is 31 today.
If they were born in the UK, the last coal-fired power plant will be disbanded by the time they reach six years old.
And when they turn 21, the last car with a conventional gasoline or diesel engine will be sold.
But to minimize the rise in temperature, the Lancet report calls for a global phase-out of coal and increased funding for low-income countries to declassify their growing economies.
Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the magazine, said: "The climate crisis is one of the biggest threats to human health today, but the world has yet to see governments respond to an unprecedented scale of challenge facing the next generation.
"The clinical, global health and research community needs to come together now and challenge our international leaders to protect the impending threat to childhood and lifelong health."
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "In the UK, our young people are already breathing toxic air that is damaging to their health," she said.
"This report warns that the effects on their still-developing lungs will only worsen as the country gets warmer.
"Other vulnerable people, such as those with lung conditions, also seem ready to worsen their conditions as extreme weather events such as heat waves become more frequent.
"UK leaders must take action now and make major changes to clean up our transport system – such as pollution of off-road polluting vehicles, affordable and accessible public transport and more cycling and walking infrastructure.
"Bold, decisive, united action is the only way to protect our planet and our health."