Act responsibly on climate emergency to protect public health, editors urge leaders

Over 200 editors from across the world call for emergency action to limit global temperature increases, restore biodiversity and protect health

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 07 September 2021
Scenes from New York during the floods this summer. Photo: @Aana_anu / Twitter
Scenes from New York during the floods this summer. Photo: @Aana_anu / Twitter Scenes from New York during the floods this summer. Photo: @Aana_anu / Twitter

The editors of over 200 medical journals have published a joint statement where they have called upon global leaders to take action on the climate emergency and protect public health.

The editors have said the recent targets to reduce emissions including targets for 2030 were not enough. They added that there was a need for effective short and long-term action plans to adopt and fast-track cleaner technologies.

The action plans to reduce emissions had not incorporated ‘health concerns’ adequately, according to the editors.

They noted that the risks to human health from increases in temperature above 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) were now well-established.

Indeed, no temperature rise was ‘safe’, the editors said, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report titled Global Warming of 1.5 ºC.

In the past two decades, heat-related mortality among people aged over 65 had increased by more than 50 per cent, according to the 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change.

In fact, more than five million people had died on an average each year across the world due to extreme temperatures, according to a study published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health July 7, 2021.

Climate affected the health of the vulnerable, including children, older populations, ethnic minorities, poorer communities and those with underlying health problems.

Extreme temperatures affected soil health too, disrupting efforts to reduce undernutrition, the editors said.

The destruction of natural ecosystems had affected water security and food security too. This had also increased the likelihood of pandemics.

In fact, every single global target to restore biodiversity loss by 2020 was missed and this was an overall environmental crisis, the editors said.

While both the rich and poor would be affected, the poorer were the most vulnerable and would suffer the most.

This would result in more conflict, food insecurity, forced displacement and zoonotic disease — with severe implications for all countries and communities.

“As with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, we are globally as strong as our weakest member,” the joint editorial added.

The editors called upon high-income countries to 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 funds must be divided equally between mitigation and adaptation. This should also include improving the resilience of health systems.

Global leaders had failed in their efforts to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature. This was the greatest threat to global public health.

The editors called upon the governments and other leaders to act, marking 2021 as the year that the world finally changed course.

The editorial was published in the British Medical Journal September 6, 2021.

It is also being published in other leading journals including The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, the East African Medical Journal, the Chinese Science Bulletin, the National Medical Journal of India and the Medical Journal of Australia.

This is for the first time that so many publications have come together to make the same statement, the British Medical Journal said in a note on its website.

The statement is being published before the United Nations General Assembly, September 14 and the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change climate summit in Glasgow from October 31-November 12, 2021.

The statement made by the health editors has been supported by over 25 other journals like the American Geophysical Union Journals, but they will not be publishing it.

This has been stated in the list of authors and signatories to the climate emergency editorial September 2021, made available by the BMJ.

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