Addressing ‘catastrophic harm to health’ from climate change

CREDIT: https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm

Over 200 health journals across the world have come together to simultaneously publish an editorial calling on world leaders to take emergency action to limit global temperature increases, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health.

While recent targets to reduce emissions and conserve biodiversity are welcome, they are not enough and are yet to be matched with credible short and longer term plans, it warns.

The editorial is published in leading titles from every continent including The BMJ, The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, the East African Medical Journal, the Chinese Science Bulletin, the National Medical Journal of India, the Medical Journal of Australia, and 50 BMJ specialist journals including BMJ Global Health and Thorax.

Never have so many journals come together to make the same statement, reflecting the severity of the climate change emergency now facing the world.

The editorial is being published ahead of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly next week, one of the last international meetings taking place before the (COP26) climate conference in Glasgow, United Kingdom (UK) in November. This is a crucial moment to urge all countries to deliver enhanced and ambitious climate plans to honour the goals of the Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change adopted by 195 countries in 2015.

For decades, health professionals and health journals have been warning of the severe and growing impacts on health from climate change and the destruction of nature.

The impact on health and survival of extreme temperatures, destructive weather events, and the widespread degradation of essential ecosystems are just some of the impacts that we are seeing more of due to a changing climate.

They disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, ethnic minorities, poorer communities and those with underlying health conditions.

The editorial urges governments to intervene to transform societies and economies, for example, by supporting the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, and health systems.

Substantial investment will be needed, but this will have huge positive health and economic benefits, including high quality jobs, reduced air pollution, increased physical activity, and improved housing and diet, explain the authors.

Crucially, cooperation hinges on wealthy nations doing more, they say. In particular, countries that have disproportionately created the environmental crisis must do more to support low and middle income countries to build cleaner, healthier, and more resilient societies.

“As health professionals, we must do all we can to aid the transition to a sustainable, fairer, resilient, and healthier world,” they write. “We, as editors of health journals, call for governments and other leaders to act, marking 2021 as the year that the world finally changes course.”

Editor-in-Chief of The BMJ, and one of the co-authors of the editorial, Dr. Fiona Godlee, said: “Health professionals have been on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis and they are united in warning that going above 1.5C and allowing the continued destruction of nature will bring the next, far deadlier crisis. Wealthier nations must act faster and do more to support those countries already suffering under higher temperatures. 2021 has to be the year the world changes course — our health depends on it.”

Editor-in-Chief of BMJ Global Health, Seye Abimbola, said: “What we must do to tackle pandemics, health inequities, and climate change is the same – global solidarity and action that recognise that, within and across nations our destinies are inextricably linked, just as human health is inextricably linked to the health of the planet.”

Joint Editor-in-Chief of Thorax, Prof. Alan Smyth, said: “Global warming affects the future of our planet and right now it is affecting the lung health of all of its inhabitants across all ages, from young to old. This editorial is a call to world leaders at COP26 to take immediate and proportionate action to limit the rise in global temperatures.”