More than 220 of the world’s top public health and medical journals have published a joint plea for the global population to reduce carbon emissions immediately. Humanity already faces irreversible public health threats, the editors wrote. We can’t wait for the pandemic to end before we face the task of reducing emissions.
“Health is already being harmed by global temperature increases and the destruction of the natural world, a state of affairs health professionals have been bringing attention to for decades,” said the call for action, which was published in multiple health journals worldwide, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal. “The science is unequivocal: a global increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit] above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.”
The full name of the call for action, published September 5, is “Call for Emergency Action to Limit Global Temperature Increases, Restore Biodiversity, and Protect Health.” It lists some of the health problems that higher temperatures exacerbate, such as renal function loss, pregnancy complications, tropical infections and dermatological malignancies. In the last two decades, deaths related to heat have increased by more than 50% in people over 65 years old.
Global warming is also threatening crop production, leading to food insecurity. Like many effects of climate change, undernutrition disproportionately affects poorer countries and poorer regions and neighborhoods within more developed countries. Children, seniors, ethnic minorities and those with preexisting health problems are especially at risk.
The call to action points out that those who suffer most are often those who contributed to climate change the least. The medical journal editors asked for fairness, saying that the richer countries most responsible for our current crisis should do more to support lower-income countries. They suggest that funding be equally split between mitigating damage already done and adapting to avoid more. Instead of loans, the call says richer countries need to give grants to poorer countries and erase large past debts.
After all, we’re in this together, and “we are globally as strong as our weakest member,” says the call to action. “The greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5° C and to restore nature.”
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