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Medical Journals Call Climate Change the ‘Greatest Threat to Global Public Health’


A collection of leading health and medical journals called this week for swift action to combat climate change, calling on governments to cooperate and invest in the environmental crisis with the degree of funding and urgency they used to confront the coronavirus pandemic.

In an editorial published in more than 200 medical and health journals worldwide, the authors declared a 1.5-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures the “greatest threat to global public health.” The world is on track to warm by around 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100, based on current policies.

“The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the preindustrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, no temperature rise is ‘safe.’”

Although medical journals have copublished editorials in the past, this marked the first time that publication has been coordinated at this scale. In total more than 200 journals representing every continent and a wide range of medical and health disciplines from ophthalmology to veterinary medicine published the statement. The authors are editors of leading journals including The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the editorial, they raised concerns not only about the direct health consequences of rising temperatures, including heat-related mortality, pregnancy complications and cardiovascular disease, but also the indirect costs, including the effects that soil depletion could have on malnutrition and the possibility that widespread destruction of habitats could increase the likelihood of future pandemics.

The editorial urged wealthy countries to go beyond their targets and commit to emissions reductions that are commensurate with their cumulative, historic emissions. It also called on them to go beyond their stated goals of $100 billion for climate resiliency plans in developing nations, including funding for improving health systems.

“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,” said Dr. Lukoye Atwoli, the editor in chief of the East African Medical Journal and one of the co-authors of the editorial, in a statement. “We therefore call for equitable contributions whereby the world’s wealthier countries do more to offset the impact of their actions on the climate.”

Sue Turale, the editor in chief of the International Nursing Review and a co-author of the editorial, said in a statement, “As our planet faces disasters from climate change and rising global temperature, health professionals everywhere have a moral responsibility to act to avoid this.”

The publication comes ahead of a busy few months of climate and environmental conferences. The U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to meet this month in New York City, the U.N.’s biodiversity summit will meet in October in Kunming, China, and the U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP, in Glasgow in November.

A growing body of research has shown that extreme weather events worsened by climate change are contributing to a wide range of adverse health outcomes. Earlier this year a study found that around a third of heat-related deaths worldwide could be attributed to the extra warming associated with climate change. And this summer, hundreds of Americans have died in extreme weather events, including more than 600 during the weeklong record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest that climate scientists say would have been “virtually impossible without climate change.


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