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Climate change poses a ‘serious health risk’ to the most vulnerable in Wales, Chief Medical Officer Frank Atherton has warned in his annual report.

First published:
17 June 2022
Last updated:

The report looks at the second year of the pandemic, as well as looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

The report is made up of four chapters focusing on:

  • how climate change will become a pressing public health issue increasingly dominating our lives
  • Wales’s population continuing to grow and becoming a predominantly ageing population with a decreasing working-age population
  • the impact of the pandemic on the most deprived areas of Wales, mortality rates and life expectancy
  • how the health and social care system responded to the pandemic, both the strain it was under, and also the lessons learnt and new ways of working.

In the environmental public health chapter, the report warns an increase in unusual weather events, such as extreme heat, cold and flood events, is likely to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable living in deprived areas and exacerbate already prevalent public health inequalities.

CMO Frank Atherton said:

“The public health argument for taking action to address climate change now is strong.

“Climate change will increasingly dominate our lives in the foreseeable future and the benefit of effective interventions would far outweigh their cost

“We know the pandemic has disproportionately affected the most deprived areas in Wales and had the greatest impact on our ageing population.

“We must do everything in our powers to ensure climate change doesn’t have similarly devastating consequences.”

The CMO’s annual report warns it is only through mitigating and adapting that we can respond to the impacts of climate change.

Mitigation includes reducing the sources of harmful greenhouse gases, whilst adaptation is about individuals, organisations and communities understanding and making changes to respond to the likely impacts of climate change.

Climate Change Minister Julie James said:

“Climate change is the biggest emergency we face. Our Chief Medical Officer is now raising the alarm on how it will directly impact public health in his report published today.

“Our ambitious plans to achieve a Net Zero Wales and decarbonise the NHS have put us on a path to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change and protect our most vulnerable communities from bearing its brunt. 

“But this requires action from us all. Only by working together in a Team Wales effort can we achieve a healthy, happy and green Wales for our future generations to enjoy.”

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said:

“The effects of climate change on the environment around the world are clear to see and they pose a significant threat to public health.

“Climate change can impact access to the most basic health requirements, including clean air, safe water and sufficient food.

“We must take action now to prevent climate change having a devastating effect on the most vulnerable.” 

Teaching children and young people about the positive action they can take to tackle climate change will be instrumental for future generations.

Eco-Schools is a unique programme that places pupil driven environmental change at its heart. It gives pupils of all ages a platform to come together to identify environmental improvements, formulate a plan and see the impact of them.

Lesley Jones, Chief executive of Keep Wales Tidy, which runs Eco-Schools, said:

“Eco-Schools is the largest sustainable schools programme in the world with pupil driven environmental change at its heart. It inspires young people in schools, irrespective of their background, to take action against climate change. 

“Currently there are over 800 schools in Wales with the prestigious Eco-Schools green flag accreditation, and hundreds more working towards it, showing there is that real appetite amongst schools to be part of the movement to tackle climate change. 

“At Eco-Schools we know that now, more than ever, we need young people to feel empowered to make a difference, as it is their future at stake.”