Nineteen countries have joined Malta’s call for the EU to be better prepared for the damaging health impacts of climate change.
The group of twenty countries has submitted a joint paper urging the European Commission (EC) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to increase surveillance of potential health threats and prepare healthcare systems for future emergencies.
“Higher temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns (including floods and droughts) and extreme weather events... will increasingly have a negative impact on human health and potentially on the provision of health services," the paper seen by Times of Malta said.
It said such impacts include heat exposure-related deaths and illness, increased prevalence of diseases spread by insects and contaminated food and water, worsening of air pollution and increased mental health problems.
The paper calls on the EC and ECDC to analyse threats to health and healthcare systems, develop preparedness plans, increase surveillance of threats, coordinate a common EU approach and ensure the EU is able to provide effective medical treatments.
"Climate change has now become a climate crisis," it states.
The paper will be discussed next week at a meeting of the EU Health Council, with health ministers from across the continent in attendance.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday, Health Minister Chris Fearne said the group of countries had joined the “Malta-led call linking climate change and health”.
Fearne is understood to have urged health ministers from across the EU to back the call during an informal meeting.
The paper was submitted on behalf of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia.
The call follows Fearne’s words on the topic in July, when, at a meeting of the European Council, he said Southern Europe was experiencing the devastating effects of climate change in real time.
“Malta is going to be one of the countries pushing to have a discussion on climate change and how this is affecting the health of our citizens and the delivery of our health services,” Fearne said at the time.
Last year, an estimated 61,000 people died during Europe’s then-record-breaking summer.
In September, scientists at the European Union Climate Change Service said this year’s summer had broken all records, surpassing last year’s average temperature by a significant margin.
Meanwhile, in July alone, 21 people in Malta died of dehydration and other heat-related symptoms in as the country grappled with a weeks-long heatwave and repeated power cuts.
Rising temperatures have been linked to the explosion of certain species including the tiger mosquito, or forest mosquito, which the paper said in a decade had spread to an additional five countries and 223 regions across the continent.
The insect is known to spread viruses including yellow fever, dengue fever and Chikungunya fever. .