The World Health Organisation has exaggerated the number of deaths likely to be caused by global warming, according to a former US government adviser on climate change.
The United Nations health agency claimed in September that climate change would cause 250,000 deaths a year between 2030 and 2050.
These extra deaths would include 95,000 more people dying each year from malnutrition, 60,000 from malaria, and 48,000 from diarrhoea, plus 38,000 elderly people killed by heat exposure. Indur Goklany, a former US delegate to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says that the forecast is based on false assumptions which result in at least a 10-fold exaggeration in the number of extra deaths.
He argues that the health organisation wrongly assumed that people would not take practical steps to protect themselves. These include improving water supplies and hygiene to reduce disease and relocating away from stretches of coast most vulnerable to flooding.
The assumptions used by WHO are not mentioned in its fact sheet but instead relegated to the third column of a table in the full report, which is based on computer models.
The column, headed “potential options not included in model”, reveals that the forecast for deaths from diarrhoea does not include “improved water, sanitation and hygiene”. The forecast for coastal flooding victims does not include “population relocation” and heatwave deaths does not take into account “improved heat health protection measures; early warning systems”.
Dr Goklany has analysed the claims in a briefing paper published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate sceptic think-tank founded by Lord Lawson of Blaby, the chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Dr Goklany writes: “[The WHO study] ignores the fact that people and societies are not potted plants; that they will actually take steps to reduce, if not nullify, real or perceived threats to their life, limb and well-being.”
History showed that people adapt to such threats, he said. “The idea that people would not, for example, react to higher sea levels by building higher sea defences or even moving away from the coast is preposterous, so for the WHO to suggest such a high death toll from climate change completely misleads the public.
“Because of its wilful exaggerations, the study risks scaring people into taking ill-considered costly actions to limit greenhouse gases rather than focusing on higher priority global health issues such as hunger, malaria and diarrhoeal diseases, which can be addressed at a fraction of the cost.”