Burning embers: Synthesis of the health risks of climate change

Kristie L. Ebi, Christopher Boyer, Nicholas Ogden, Shlomit Paz, Peter Berry, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Jeremy J. Hess, Alistair Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since 2001, a synthesizing element in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports has been a summary of how risks in a particular system could change with additional warming above pre-industrial levels, generally accompanied by a figure called the burning embers. We present a first effort to develop burning embers for climate change risks for heat-related morbidity and mortality, ozone-related mortality, malaria, diseases carried by Aedes sp., Lyme disease, and West Nile fever. We used an evidence-based approach to construct the embers based on a comprehensive global literature review. Projected risks for these health outcomes under 1.5 °C, 2 °C, and >2 °C of warming were used to estimate at what temperatures risk levels increased from undetectable to medium, high, and very high, from the pre-industrial baseline, under three adaptation scenarios. Recent climate change has likely increased risks from undetectable to moderate for heat-related morbidity and mortality, ozone-related mortality, dengue, and Lyme disease. Recent climate change also was assessed as likely beginning to affect the burden of West Nile fever. A detectable impact of climate change on malaria is not yet apparent but is expected to occur with additional warming. The risk for each climate-sensitive health outcome is projected to increase as global mean surface temperature increases above pre-industrial levels, with the extent and pace of adaptation expected to affect the timing and magnitude of risks. The embers may be an effective tool for informing efforts to build climate-resilient health systems including through vulnerability, capacity, and adaptation assessments and the development of national adaptation plans. The embers also can be used to raise awareness of future threats from climate change and advocate for mitigation actions to reduce the overall magnitude of health risks later this century and to expand current adaptation efforts to protect populations now.

Original languageEnglish
Article number044042
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Institute of Physics Publishing. All rights reserved.


  • Climate change
  • Dengue
  • Health
  • Heat-related mortality
  • Lyme disease
  • Malaria
  • West Nile virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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