Medical journals warn climate change will cause 'catastrophic harm to health'

·Senior Editor
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More than 200 of the world's leading health journals banded together over the weekend to release a joint statement imploring global leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, which they say is the greatest threat to public health.

Published Saturday in the Lancet, the British Medical Journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Medical Journal of Australia, the Chinese Science Bulletin and the National Medical Journal of India, among other publications, the statement warns that the continued buildup of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere will lead to “catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.”

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

The joint statement comes a little over a month before the representatives of world governments are scheduled to converge in Glasgow, Scotland, for the United Nations climate summit known as COP26.

“Ahead of these pivotal meetings, we — the editors of health journals worldwide — call for urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1.5° C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health,” the joint statement says.

Global average surface temperatures have risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. If no further action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures are predicted to rise by as much as 3.1 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

A traffic policeman
A traffic policeman signals to drivers during a smoggy day in Harbin, China. (Reuters/China Daily)

In a report released in August, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the window of opportunity for humans to take action and keep global temperatures from rising above a threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times is quickly closing.

As the summer of 2021 has illustrated across the Northern Hemisphere, the consequences of rising temperatures have led to a variety of outcomes detrimental to human health, including wildfire smoke, record-setting heat waves and deadly flash floods. The medical journals' joint statement also cites research showing climate change contributing to problems such as lower crop yields leading to undernutrition.

“We’re able to live with the current warming, but as is evident by extremes all over the world ... recent wildfires in the USA, in Southern Europe, the extreme rainfall and flooding we’ve seen across parts of Europe and China ... we’re living with this already, and it’s killing people, it’s causing damage,” Richard Allan, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report and a professor of climate science at the University of Reading in the U.K., told Yahoo News last month.

As the new statement from the health journals attests, for those in the medical profession the effects of climate change are being felt today and show the urgent need to prevent further warming.

“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,” Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal, said in a statement. “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.”

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