A new editorial, published across 220 journals, expresses the climate concerns of healthcare professionals and researchers – with Dr Ghebreyesus saying “there is no vaccine for the climate crisis”
The COVID-19 crisis can be cured, given the right level of resources. Ahead of COP26, a widely-published editorial by various healthcare experts proposes that there is no singular solution to the climate crisis.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, said:
“The risks posed by climate change could dwarf those of any single disease. The COVID-19 pandemic will end, but there is no vaccine for the climate crisis.”
The connection between global health and climate
These voices, ominously publishing in unison, highlight the unquestionable connection between global health and the state of the climate. When COVID hit, the power of air pollution in deciding life expectancy was made starkly clear. Those living in areas with high levels of pollution, often in overpopulated cities, faced increased chances of COVID death and hospitalisation. The rise in global warming similarly impacts the poorest individuals in the Global South, where heat-related deaths are substantially rising – especially for agricultural workers. In 2019, over 350,000 people died due to the heat itself.
The connection between health and climate has never been so pronounced, targeted and disproportionate. While the Global South experiences the most casualties from a changing climate, the Global North has 95% of renewable electricity sources.
Professor Lukoye Atwoli, Editor-in-Chief of the East Africa Medical Journal, and one of the co-authors of the editorial, said: “While low and middle income countries have historically contributed less to climate change, they bear an inordinate burden of the adverse effects, including on health.”
What changes are proposed?
Some of the proposals by healthcare experts are echoes of the IPCC Report, while others course-correct the ethics of existing Government decisions. Everything suggested has been individually suggested before, by studies and comments from experts across continents.
The editorial believes that emission reduction targets are too low and won’t work, especially without credible long term plans. It also proposes infrastructural change, e.g. the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, and health systems.
The authors explain that: “Such investments will produce huge positive benefits, including high quality jobs, reduced air pollution, increased physical activity, and improved housing and diet.”
Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, said: “Dedicated support is required for reducing the cost of capital and encouraging private sector participation. Strict implementation of the Paris Agreement is the only way to check global emissions and thereby global warming.
“The time to take action to save the planet is not tomorrow, but today.”