Updated: September 7, 2021 7:38:35 am
In a first-of-its-kind effort, editors of more than 220 leading health journals from all over the world have published a joint editorial asking governments to take immediate and more ambitious climate action to hold global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5°C from pre-industrial times. The editors have urged governments to treat climate change with the same kind of urgency that was shown in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“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 editors have said.
The concerns raised
The editorial highlighted the escalating health impacts of climate change, and pointed out that these impacts “disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children, older populations, ethnic minorities, poorer communities, and those with underlying health problems”.
“Concern is growing that temperature rises above 1.5°C are beginning to be seen as inevitable, or even acceptable, to powerful members of the global community… Insufficient action means that temperature increases are likely to be well in excess of 2°C, a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability… More can, and must be done now… and in the immediate years that follow,” it said.
Why health journals
Climate change has several adverse health impacts, both direct and indirect. Heat-related diseases triggered by extreme heat events, which are on the rise because of changing climate, are an example of direct health impacts of climate change. Changing crop patterns, declining yields, water scarcity, and extreme precipitation are expected to have health consequences as well. Food shortages and resultant malnutrition are considered major side-effects of rising temperatures.
The World Health Organization estimates that about 250,000 excess deaths are likely to be caused by climate change-induced factors — malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress — between 2030 and 2050.
Indeed, the joint editorial points out that higher temperatures have led to “increased dehydration and renal function loss, dermatological malignancies, tropical infections, adverse mental health outcomes, pregnancy complications, allergies, and cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity and mortality”.
The joint editorial in health journals comes weeks ahead of COP26, the 26th edition of the annual UN climate conference, in Glasgow. Before that, a similar UN meeting on biodiversity is scheduled in Kunming, China. The editorial is part of the exercise to create momentum for concrete and ambitious decisions at these meetings.
Such exercises are normal in the run-up to these big meetings. In the weeks and months leading up to the climate summit, there is usually a lot of activity. Countries unveil new plans and pledges, NGOs and research institutions release several reports and studies, protests and demonstrations take place, all aimed towards creating sufficient pressure on negotiators to come to more ambitious agreements.
All these do feed into the decision-making process and, to some extent, also influence the final outcome of these meetings.
The editorial’s emphasis on the need to hold global rise in temperatures to 1.5°C — not just 2°C — is in line with growing clamour to put pressure on the governments not to abandon the 1.5°C. The recent IPCC report had mentioned that the 1.5°C target was likely to be reached in less than two decades.
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