Global warming kills about 160,000 people through its effects every year, scientists have warned. And the numbers dying from "side-effects" of climate change, such as malaria and malnutrition, could almost double by 2020, they say.
"We estimate that climate change may already be causing in the region of 160,000 deaths... a year," Andrew Haines of the UK's London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) told a climate change conference in Moscow.
The study, by scientists at LSHTM and the World Health Organization, concludes that children in developing countries are most vulnerable to the impact of global warming.
Most deaths would be in developing nations in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, says Haines. These regions would be worst hit by the spread of malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria as a result of warmer temperatures, droughts and floods.
"These diseases mainly affect younger age groups, so that the total burden of disease due to climate change appears to be borne mainly by children in developing countries," Haines said in a Reuters report.
However, people in Europe or North America might live longer, on average, due to milder winters. This would be despite risks from heatwaves. About 15,000 people died in France alone during Europe's scorching summer this year.
The study suggests climate change could "bring some health benefits, such as lower cold-related mortality and greater crop yields in temperate zones, but these will be greatly outweighed by increased rates of other diseases," said Haines.
Small shifts in temperature might extend the range of malaria-spreading mosquitoes, and flooding could contaminate water supplies and wash away crops.
Meanwhile, Russia is failing to keep its earlier pledge to ratify swiftly the Kyoto protocol aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. The pact needs Russian ratification to enter force.
The Russian President Vladimir Putin, who opened the conference, joked that global warming might even benefit countries like Russia as people "would spend less money on fur coats and other warm things".
He told delegates that Russia was closely studying the issue of ratification but gave no timetable for a decision.
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