The world’s major health journals say the climate and nature crisis is an emergency demanding we transform our societies.
The stark declaration by more than 220 leading medical, nursing, and public health journals declares the climate and nature crisis the biggest threat to the future health of the world, Climate News Network reports.
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“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 authors write in an unprecedented joint editorial. “Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with COVID-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.”
The crisis is an emergency which requires world leaders to transform societies and limit climate change, the editorial says. Their continued failure to do enough to keep the global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5°C above historic levels, and to restore nature, is the greatest threat to global public health.
In the United Kingdom, the editorial was published in one of the world’s oldest, most distinguished medical journals, The Lancet, and in the British Medical Journal. Other publishers include the East African Medical Journal, the Chinese Science Bulletin, the New England Journal of Medicine, titles in Brazil, India, and Australia, and elsewhere.
Never before have so many journals combined to publish the same editorial, Climate News Net writes.
Heat, Storms, Ecosystem Damage
Heat-related mortality, the health impacts of destructive weather, and widespread damage to ecosystems essential to human health are just a few of the impacts that are more frequent due to a changing climate, the authors say. These impacts disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, racialized minorities, poorer communities, and those with underlying health conditions.
The editorial scorns recent targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect nature: “These promises are not enough. Targets are easy to set and hard to achieve.” Significantly, it prescribes some hard-headed realism in attempts to limit temperature rise, declaring it “implausible” to cut emissions to net-zero by mid-century by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, a still unproven technology.
Throughout the editorial, there echoes an insistence on the need for equity, for confronting the crisis without reliance on the failed nostrums of the past. “Equity must be at the centre of the global response,” the authors write. “Wealthier countries will have to cut emissions more quickly, making reductions by 2030 beyond those currently proposed and reaching net-zero emissions before 2050. Similar targets and emergency action are needed for biodiversity loss and the wider destruction of the natural world.”
Governments must transform societies and economies, the editorial adds, by redesigning transport systems, cities, food production and distribution, and financial markets, as well as health systems.
No to Austerity
That shift would create high-quality jobs, reduce air pollution and increase physical activity, and improve housing and diet. Better air quality alone would lead to health benefits that easily offset the global costs of emissions cuts.
These measures, the editorial says, will also improve the social and economic factors which determine health, and may have made some populations more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But these changes “cannot be achieved through a return to damaging austerity policies or the continuation of the large inequalities of wealth and power within and between countries,” the authors stress. Rich countries should provide more generous funding for poorer ones—and it should take the form grants, not loans.
Otherwise, the authors conclude, the world is heading for a double disaster. “Temperature increases are likely to be well in excess of 2°C, a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability,” they write. And even then, “the destruction of nature does not have parity of esteem with the climate element of the crisis, and every single global target to restore biodiversity loss by 2020 was missed. This is an overall environmental crisis.” − Climate News Network