ERS climate change statement highlights major threats to respiratory health and calls for wide support of climate change mitigation and air pollution reduction policies

ERS climate change statement highlights major threats to respiratory health and calls for wide support of climate change mitigation and air pollution reduction policies - article image

4 September, 2023

The European Respiratory Society (ERS) has outlined climate change occurrences which cause clear and major threats to respiratory patients worldwide, in a statement published today (4 September, 2023).

Alongside outlining the threats, the statement calls for health to be central to the development of climate change mitigation strategies and air pollution reduction policies. ERS urges support from the professional respiratory community to advocate for the protection of our planet and for the health of people that live and depend on it.

ERS issued its first position statement on “Climate change and respiratory disease and health” in 2009, outlining areas for major concern for respiratory patients. It identified key areas of concern for respiratory patients and healthcare workers and made recommendations for research to address knowledge gaps, calling for action to mitigate the climate change crisis.

Since then, new records have been repeatedly set for high temperatures around the world and Europe has experienced heatwaves, devastating wildfires, rainstorms and flooding. Research on the impacts of climate change, both relating to respiratory health and health in general, has progressed.

Research now provides further scientifically grounded evidence on mechanisms, vulnerabilities and actions to protect populations from climate-related hazards.

This evidence should be used to develop public health policies, increase awareness of climate change impacts on health, and drive the motivation for action among citizens, healthcare professionals, researchers and political entities.

Currently, existing European Union (EU) standards on air quality are well above those laid out in the World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines:

  • In the EU, the standard is currently 25 micrograms per cubic meter for fine particles [PM2.5] and 40 micrograms per cubic meter for nitrogen dioxide.
  • This compares to 5 micrograms per cubic meter for PM2.5 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter for nitrogen dioxide in the WHO guidelines.

However, the EU is currently revising its Ambient Air Quality Directive.

Professor Zorana Jovanovic Andersen, Chair of the ERS Environment and Health Committee, said:

“Climate change affects everyone’s health, but arguably, respiratory patients are among the most vulnerable. These are people who already experience breathing difficulties; they are far more sensitive to our changing climate. Their symptoms will worsen, and for some this will be fatal.

“Air pollution is already damaging our lungs. Now the effects of climate change are becoming a major threat to respiratory patients.”

According to the ERS report, these effects include higher temperatures and a subsequent increase in airborne allergens, such as pollen. They also include more frequent extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, leading to episodes of extreme air pollution and dust storms, as well as heavy rainfall and flooding, leading to higher humidity and mould in the home.

In particular, the report highlights the extra risk to babies and children, whose lungs are still developing.

“As respiratory doctors and nurses, we need to be aware of these new risks and do all we can to help alleviate patients’ suffering,” Professor Jovanovic Andersen said. “We also need to explain the risks to our patients so they can protect themselves from adverse effects of climate change.”

Read the statement in full via the European Respiratory Journal.

Register for the World Lung Day ERS advocacy panel discussion on climate change and respiratory health.

Read more on ERS advocacy activities.

Environmental and occupational health