Lancet Countdown in Europe Barcelona Launch Event

On May 28, The Lancet Countdown in Europe met to celebrate the Barcelona Launch of the 2024 Lancet Countdown in Europe Indicator Report. Established in 2021, the Lancet Countdown in Europe tracks the connections between climate change and public health across Europe. The collaboration develops region-specific indicators to address the main challenges and opportunities of Europe’s response to climate change for health. 

The European Report provides 42 indicators across five domains highlighting the negative impacts of climate change on human health, the delayed climate action of European countries, and the missed opportunities to protect or improve health through health-responsive climate action. 

Thislocal launch event brought together climate, public health, and communications experts to discuss the latest evidence from the European Report on how climate change is undermining the foundations of good health in Europe, and discussed the health benefits of a rapid and robust response to climate change, and the implications of the report at the local scale.

Policy & Communication Implications of the Report 

The indicators in the report provide necessary information for health and climate policy decision-making and contribute to the European Observatory on Climate and Health.

One of the goals of the Barcelona launch was to better understand the societal impact of the report, and how the Lancet Countdown can foster the much needed increase in ambition and implementation in Europe to tackle climate change. In an effort to answer this question, a panel discussion was held with local climate and communications experts to explore the policy and communication implications of the report. 

In order to understand the impact of the report, we first need to define what is meant by impact. Oftentimes impact and media coverage are used interchangeably. But are they the same? 

Information fatigue

One of the key topics discussed during the panel was the availability of climate change information. Jordi Cunillera, head of the Climate Change Unit at the Meteorological Service of Catalonia, mentioned that their issue is not lack of data; there is a wide body of scientific literature on the impacts of climate change, and new data is constantly being generated. The issue that they face is that  there is too much data, and triaging data to get to information decision makers and the general public will engage with requires a great deal of time and resources. 

Anna Ramon, head of the Communication Department at CREAF,  added that, at the societal level, this overload of information, oftentimes negative, causes information fatigue, with many people actively choosing not to follow the news because it is discouraging. 

What is information fatigue? It is apathy, indifference, or mental exhaustion arising from exposure to too much information; or stress induced by the attempt to assimilate excessive amounts of information from the media, the internet, or at work. 

So what do we need more of to achieve climate action? If the issue is not the availability of information, how can we effectively communicate the impacts of the climate crisis and the opportunities presented by tackling it now rather than waiting?

Georgina Pujol, journalist at TV3 specializing in the climate crisis, expressed that a more positive discourse is needed when discussing climate change. We need to move away from doom and gloom messaging that often leaves readers feeling overwhelmed and defeated. In a world full of bad news, another article that “climate change will kill us all” will generate withdrawal, not inspire action. People need hope, not fear. 

How the Lancet Countdown in Europe is contributing  to  impactful climate change messaging 

The Lancet Countdown in Europe Report plays a critical role in providing evidence-based narratives about climate change and health. 

Drawing on the transdisciplinary expertise of 69 contributors spanning over 40 academic and UN institutions, The Lancet Countdown in Europe encourages multisectoral collaboration on climate change, while keeping human health at the center. 

The division of the report into domain- and region-specific indicators also helps to synthesize climate-health information in a digestible, user-friendly way, allowing end-users and policy makers to search directly for the indicators that are relevant for them.

Fina Ambattle, head of project management at the Advisory Council for Sustainable Development (CADS), emphasized that support from these types of reports are critical for them when transmitting the consequences and impact of climate change to policymakers and the private sector. 

The Lancet Countdown in Europe report helps to engage the non-scientific community with climate change information by  promoting the transfer of information between academia and civil society, which can simultaneously help combat information fatigue by illustrating how climate action can protect health in the near term as well as reduce future climate change. 

The message from the report is clear: climate change is affecting health in Europe now. While climate action is largely moving in the right direction, progress is too slow. Increasing the pace of climate action can deliver large benefits to health. Data and infographics produced by the Lancet Countdown in Europe can support broader efforts to communicate about climate change and health to achieve the societal impact needed to protect both our planet and human health. 

Priority actions to benefit health 

  • 29 out of 53 European countries continue to subsidize fossil fuels. Removing fossil fuel subsidies and shifting financing to increase availability and affordability of clean energy can save lives by reducing air pollution and energy poverty. 
  • While still a major public health problem, ambient air pollution in Europe has decreased over the past few decades, largely due to end of pipe emission controls. Shifting away from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save lives due to cleaner air pollution. 
  • It’s not just governments who play a role in promoting health in the transition to net-zero emissions. Individuals can benefit directly from health benefits of
    • additional physical activity from shifting out of private motor vehicles to public and active (i.e. walking and cycling) transport
    • healthier diets with more fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and less processed red meat.

Presenting climate change as a health issue has the potential to engage actors in climate change action who might engage with climate change on its own. Interest in the intersection of climate change and health is increasing among the scientific community and corporate sector.