Climate Change Poses Growing Risk of Superbugs, Says UN Report

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Climate adaptation UN report climate change contributes spread of superbugs

A report released by the United Nations Environment Program on February 2023, “Bracing for Superbugs,” shows that climate change increases the risk of antibiotic-resistant viruses.

We use antimicrobials to prevent and treat infections in humans, aquaculture, livestock, and crops. However, these host of substances – such as antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics that we depend on for the health of the species will not be as effective as they used to be.

The study says that overuse of antimicrobials and pollution from wastewater, hospital and pharmaceutical wastes, runoffs, and agricultural wastes are significant factors that create antimicrobial resistance or AMR.

Our overuse of antimicrobials and antibiotics leads to the evolution of potentially dangerous microbes into forms that are more resistant to the medications we take to kill them.

Pollution and waste dumped in the environment expose germs to the drugs, giving them more chances to evolve and become resistant.

These microorganisms that develop resistance to antimicrobials and antibiotics are stronger.

But environmental factors also play a role in the transmission and spread of AMR.

“Climate change, pollution, changes in our weather patterns, more rainfall, more closely packed, dense cities and urban areas – all of this facilitates the spread of antibiotic resistance. And I am certain that this is only going to go up with time unless we take relatively drastic measures to curb this,” said Dr Scott Roberts, an infectious diseases specialist at Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved with the new UN report (Chavez, 2023).

Research has shown that increased temperatures increase the bacterial growth rate and the spread of antibiotic-resistant genes between microorganisms (Chavez, 2023).

Key findings of the report include:

  • Up to 10 million deaths could occur annually by 2050 due to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), on par with the 2020 rate of global deaths from cancer.
  • Pollution in key sectors of the economy contributes to the development, transmission and spread of AMR.
  • AMR’s economic toll could result in a GDP drop of at least USD 3.4 trillion annually by 2030, pushing 24 million more people into extreme poverty.

Getting serious about AMR would mean preventing environmental pollution.

“The pharmaceutical sector must upgrade manufacturing processes, overseen by strong regulatory and inspection systems. The agriculture sector must look hard at pesticide use and avoid using antibiotics that correspond to those used as a last resort in human medicine. In the healthcare sector, strong infection prevention control programmes to reduce antimicrobial use and wastewater treatment to prevent biological pollution can limit environmental contamination. Municipal systems must improve their treatment of wastewater, which is currently too often discharged directly into the environment. All of this will take resources, and this is why financing, is critical for the Global South” (Tackling antimicrobial resistance, 2023).

Read the entire report: Bracing for Superbugs: Strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance


Chavez, J. (2023, February 7). Climate change is contributing to the rise of superbugs, new UN report says. CNN. Retrieved from

To reduce superbugs, world must cut down pollution. (2023, February 7). UNEP. Retrieved from

Tackling antimicrobial resistance: Stopping pollution at source. (2023, February 7). UNEP. Retrieved from

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