Over 200 of the world’s leading medical journals unite in an unprecedented joint editorial urging for immediate and far greater action to reduce global emissions to protect global public health. Transforming and improving the resilience of health systems should be a part of any climate action plan. 

What is Happening?

Global warming is the “greatest threat to global public health”, scientists warn in an unprecedented joint statement between 203 medical journals, and are calling for urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1.5° C and to protect health.

The editorial was published in leading medical journals such as The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine and the British Medical Journal, and ahead of the upcoming UN general assembly and UN climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow in November, to urge world leaders to address the climate crisis. 

“The science is unequivocal: a global increase of 1.5° C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse,” the editorial says.

The effects of global warming on public health have exponentially grown over the last 20 years. Heat-related mortality among people over 65 years of age has increased by more than 50%, while higher temperatures have brought increased rates of health issues including dehydration, cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity and mortality. It’s also undeniable that climate change is harder on people of colour, lower-income communities who lack access to health services, as well as children

In the wake of the UN-backed IPCC report that warns 1.5°C temperature rise could happen as early as 2030-2035, and that fact that every single global target to restore biodiversity loss by 2020 was missed, the destruction of nature is well underway. The editorial is united with “environmental scientists, businesses, and many others in rejecting that this outcome is inevitable…we join health professionals worldwide who have already supported calls for rapid action.”

While it’s encouraging that many major carbon emitting countries have set for net-zero goals for 2030, these targets are not nearly enough to reach the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. The world cannot wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to pass to start reducing emissions. 

Governments around the world must work together to achieve environmentally sustainable health systems before 2040. The editorial adds: “Health institutions have already divested more than $42 billion of assets from fossil fuels; others should join them.”

Wealthy nations should also do more and lead the way in slashing emissions as developed countries have disproportionately created the environmental crisis. ”High-income countries must meet and go beyond their outstanding commitment to provide $100 billion a year and increasing contributions to and beyond 2025,” the editorial urges. “Funding must be equally split between mitigation and adaptation, including improving the resilience of health systems.”

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Featured image by: United Nations Photo/Flickr