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UN Report: Climate change is contributing to the rise of superbugs – UN warns ‘a more extreme climate’ will increase antimicrobial resistance & ‘could destroy our health & food systems’

Climate Depot Special Report

(CNN) — Climate change and antimicrobial resistance are two of the greatest threats to global health, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme. The report, titled “Bracing for Superbugs,” highlights the role of climate change and other environmental factors contributing to the rise of antimicrobial resistance. It was announced Tuesday at the Sixth Meeting of the Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance in Barbados. 
The climate crisis worsens antimicrobial resistance in several ways. Research has shown that increased temperatures increase both the rate of bacterial growth and the rate of the spread of antibiotic-resistant genes between microorganisms.

“As we get a more extreme climate, especially as it warms, the gradients that drive the evolution of resistance will actually accelerate. So, by curbing temperature rises and reducing the extremity of events, we can actually then fundamentally curb the probability of evolving new resistance,” Dr. David Graham, a professor of ecosystems engineering at Newcastle University and one of the UN report’s authors, said at a news conference ahead of the report’s release.

Experts also say severe flooding as a result of climate change can lead to conditions of overcrowding, poor sanitation and increased pollution, which are known to increase infection rates and antimicrobial resistance as human waste, heavy metals and other pollutants in water create favorable conditions for bugs to develop resistance.

“The same drivers that cause environmental degradation are worsening the antimicrobial resistance problem. The impacts of antimicrobial resistance could destroy our health and food systems,” Inger Andersen, the UN Environment Programme’s executive director, said at the news conference.

“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.


Full UN Report: “Bracing for Superbugs: Strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance” – Released February 7, 2023


The report Bracing for Superbugs: Strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance provides evidence that the environment plays a key role in the development, transmission and spread of AMR.

Excerpts: AMR challenges cannot be understood or addressed separately from the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste because they are all driven by unsustainable consumption and production patterns (Cavicchioli et al. 2019; UN 2022).


The climate crisis has numerous impacts on ecosystems, human health, animal health and food production, which also affect AMR (Global Leaders Group [GLG] on AMR 2021a). Higher temperatures can be associated with increased frequency of horizontal gene transfer, especially those associated with conjugation (Lerman and Tolmach 1957; Kim, Kim and Kathariou 2008; Vegge et al. 2012), as well as an increase in antimicrobial resistant infections (MacFadden et al. 2018; McGough et al. 2020; Pepi and Focardi 2021). The climate crisis also contributes to the emergence and spread of AMR in the environment due to the continuing disruption of the environment due to extreme weather patterns (Burnham 2021). Additionally, the frequency, composition and amounts of pollution containing biotic and abiotic agents may be increasing due to the climate crisis. Temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations in the environment can also influence the survival and proliferation of bacteria, and the rate at which they acquire resistance (Liao, Chen and Huang 2019; Gupta, Laskar and Kadouri 2016; Jong et al. 2020).

Moreover, disruption of soil and changing weather and climate may affect valley fever (coccidioidomycosis), caused by Coccidioides, and these infections, as well as those from Candida auris, have been documented as severe and multi-drug resistant (Toda et al. 2019; US CDC 2019).

Global governance is increasingly recognizing environmental dimensions of AMR. Calls have been made to address environmental considerations and to include them in global, regional and national governance for a ‘One Health’ response to AMR.

Thus, countries need to integrate such environmental considerations into AMR National Action Plans, and AMR into environmental-related plans such as national chemical pollution and waste management programmes, national biodiversity and climate change planning.