Climate change could force a billion people from their homes by 2050, potentially triggering major health crises around the world, according to a new study.
The Lancet's annual Countdown report calls on governments to act quickly to fight pollution and other factors that have exacerbated climate change, leading to public health issues.
"We are only just beginning to feel the impacts of climate change," said Professor Hugh Montgomery, co-chair of the Lancet Countdown, in an interview with the Independent. "Any small amount of resilience we may take for granted today will be stretched to breaking point sooner than we may imagine.
The report found that "migration driven by climate change has potentially severe impacts on mental and physical health, both directly and by disrupting essential health and social services."
The research also found that more humans are being exposed to extreme heatwaves and air pollution and are more commonly at risk for mosquito-borne illnesses than in past decades, due to climate change.
More than one hundred million adults over the age of 65 have been exposed to dangerously hot conditions since the turn of the 21st century, while 71 percent of cities tracked by the World Health Organization have dangerous levels of air pollution.
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Dengue fever has become nearly 10 percent more prevalent around the world since 1950, due to warm conditions that allow mosquitoes to thrive for much of the year.
Already, says the report, at least 4400 people have been forced to migrate with climate change being the sole reason for fleeing their homes.
Refugees who have already been forced from their homes due to climate change include 1200 residents of the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea who fled because of rising sea levels, 3500 Alaskans who escaped coastal erosion due to melting ice, and at least 25 people who left southern Louisiana, also because of a disintegrating coastline.
The study also notes that the impacts of global warming, including drought and other conditions that can negatively affect agriculture and people's livelihoods, can set in motion a chain of events that make regions ripe for violent conflicts.
"For example, in Syria," the study reads, "many attribute the initial and continued conflict to the rural to urban migration that resulted from a climate change-induced drought."
While the issues leading to wars are complex, the Lancet continues, "climate change, as a threat multiplier and an accelerant of instability, is often thought of as important in exacerbating the likelihood of conflict."