The impacts of climate change on health are a "very real and present danger", the health secretary, Andy Burnham, warned today at the launch of a new report on how rising temperatures will affect the public.
The Lancet study, published ahead of UN talks on tackling climate change in Copenhagen, calls on health ministers and professionals around the world to recognise the danger global warming poses to health.
It says putting health at the centre of action on climate change could deliver the twin benefits of preventing illness and cutting emissions. Reducing carbon emissions from vehicles could reduce urban air pollution, which can cause heart and breathing problems, and insulating houses could prevent deaths from extremes of cold and hot weather, as well as making houses more energy efficient. The report also says reducing the amount of meat people eat will cut the impact of livestock on the climate while lowering the amount of saturated fat people eat.
Burnham said: "Climate change can seem a distant, impersonal threat – in fact the associated costs to health are a very real and present danger.
"Health ministers across the globe must act now to highlight the risk global warming poses to our communities. We need well-designed climate change policies that drive health benefits."
The energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, said global warming was a serious threat to public health and an ambitious deal to cut climate emissions is needed from the crunch Copenhagen talks.
"To protect the world's health we must stop dangerous climate change happening and limit temperature increases to no more than 20C. An ambitious and fair deal in Copenhagen will not only have major benefits in terms of reducing the climate change-related spread of infectious diseases and risks to food supply, but will also result in immediate green benefits in terms of a healthier environment and lifestyle for a low-carbon Britain – and a low-carbon world," Miliband said.
This year a report in the Lancet warned climate change was the biggest threat to global health in the 21st century, with catastrophic effects such as insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever spreading more easily.
5 months ago