Health professionals and scientists called on world leaders to take emergency action to limit climate change, restore biodiversity and protect public health, according to a simultaneously published editorial on Monday.
Over 220 medical, nursing and public health journals across the world from The Lancet, the East African Medical Journal, the New England Journal of Medicine to the Chinese Science Bulletin published an editorial in advance of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, one of the last international meetings taking place before the UN COP26 conference in Glasgow in the UK in November.
In a year of COVID-19 and ahead of the crucial environmental conference, COP26, the editorial warned that the greatest threat to global public health into the future is the continued failure of world leaders to take adequate action to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said in the editorial 'the risks posed by climate change could dwarf those of any single disease. The COVID-19 pandemic will end, but there is no vaccine for the climate crisis. The IPCC [UN body on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report shows that every fraction of a degree hotter endangers our health and future. Similarly, every action taken to limit emissions and warming brings us closer to a healthier and safer future.'
According to the editorial, for decades, health professionals and health journals have cautioned on the severe and growing impacts on health from climate change and the destruction of nature, the impacts of which are disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, ethnic minorities, poorer communities and those with underlying health conditions, the editorial said.
'Heat-related mortality, health impacts from destructive weather events and the widespread degradation of ecosystems essential to human health are just a few of the impacts that we are seeing more of due to a changing climate,” it read.
The editorial warned that while recent targets to reduce emissions and conserve nature are welcome, they are not enough and are yet to be matched with credible short and longer-term plans. The publication, therefore, urged governments to intervene to transform societies and economies, by supporting the redesign of transport systems, cities, the production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, and health systems.
It said such investments would produce huge positive benefits, including high-quality jobs, reduced air pollution, increased physical activity and improved housing and diet.
Better air quality alone would realize health benefits that easily offset the global costs of emissions reductions, according to the editorial.
These measures are also expected to improve the social and economic determinants of health, the poor state of which may have made populations more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- More efforts required from wealthy nations
The editorial also argued that sufficient global action could only be achieved if high-income countries do far more to support the rest of the world and to reduce their own consumption.
Developed countries have a commitment to provide $100 billion a year for climate action and a dual focus on mitigation and adaptation, including improving the resilience of health systems by providing funding through grants rather than loans.
'While low and middle-income countries have historically contributed less to climate change, they bear an inordinate burden of the adverse effects, including on health. We, therefore, call for equitable contributions whereby the world’s wealthier countries do more to offset the impact of their actions on the climate, beginning now, and continuing into the future,' Editor-in-Chief of the East Africa Medical Journal and one of the co-authors of the editorial, Lukoye Atwoli said.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya