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Health Journals Call for Emergency Climate Action

Climate change skyline

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

6 Sept. 2021. An editorial published in more than 200 journals calls for governments worldwide to take immediate action to mitigate climate changes affecting public health. The journals published the editorial today in advance of next week’s 76th meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, and later a biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, and the climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, U.K.

The editorial, signed by 18 health journal editors, notes …

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. 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 essay cites specific health outcomes from the climate crisis, beginning with an increase of more than 50 percent in global mortality of people age 65 and over. In addition, the editorial points out higher temperatures are resulting in, “increased dehydration and renal function loss, dermatological malignancies, tropical infections, adverse mental health outcomes, pregnancy complications, allergies, and cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity and mortality.”

The essay notes as well effects of climate changes on agriculture. Heating of the climate, say the editors, “is also contributing to the decline in global yield potential for major crops, falling by 1.8-5.6% since 1981; this, together with the effects of extreme weather and soil depletion, is hampering efforts to reduce undernutrition.” And the climate crisis is destroying habits and species, eroding water and food security, and increasing the likelihood of new pandemics.

“Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with Covid-19,” say the editors, “we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.”

Current pledges not enough

The essay notes that the most vulnerable communities are also those contributing least to the problem worldwide, yet are those bearing the brunt of climate changes. And the editors point out, “Allowing the consequences to fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable will breed more conflict, food insecurity, forced displacement, and zoonotic disease — with severe implications for all countries and communities.”

Current pledges by businesses and governments to reach net-zero emissions by 2030 are not enough to do the job, says the editorial. “Emissions reduction plans do not adequately incorporate health considerations.” And the editors add, “They are yet to be matched with credible short and longer term plans to accelerate cleaner technologies and transform societies.”

Governments in wealthier countries, says the essay, will need to take most of the steps to meet this challenge. The editors say, “governments must make fundamental changes to how our societies and economies are organized and how we live.” And the editorial notes, “Governments must intervene to support the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, health systems, and much more.”

The cost will be high, says the editorial. “High income countries must meet and go beyond their outstanding commitment to provide $100 billion a year, making up for any shortfall in 2020 and increasing contributions to and beyond 2025.” The editors say, health professionals need to join in the effort to achieve environmentally health care practices, and divesting more fossil fuel assets.

The journals publishing the editorial include leading health research publications such as The Lancet, BMJ, and New England Journal of Medicine. The list also includes journals from China and India, as well as smaller and more specialized publications.

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