Call for urgent action to limit global temperature rise, restore biodiversity and protect health

The United Nations General Assembly in September 2021 will bring countries together at a critical time to organize collective action to address the global environmental crisis. They will meet at the Biodiversity Summit in Kunming, China, and the Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK. Ahead of these crucial meetings, we, the editors of health journals around the world, call for urgent action to keep the global average temperature rise below 1.5 ° C, end the destruction of nature and protect health.

Health is already being undermined by rising global temperatures and destruction of the natural world, a situation medical professionals have been calling attention to for decades.1 The science is clear: an overall increase of 1.5 ° C above the pre-industrial average and continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic health damage that will be impossible to reverse.2.3 Despite the world’s necessary concern for Covid-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to reduce emissions quickly.

Reflecting the gravity of the moment, this editorial appears in health journals around the world. We are united in recognizing that only fundamental and equitable changes in societies will reverse our current trajectory.

The health risks of increases above 1.5 ° C are now well established.2 Indeed, no temperature rise is “safe”. Over the past 20 years, heat-related mortality in people over 65 has increased by more than 50%.4 Higher temperatures have led to increased dehydration and loss of kidney function, skin malignancies, tropical infections, adverse mental health effects, pregnancy complications, allergies, as well as morbidity and mortality. cardiovascular and pulmonary.5.6 Harm disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, including children, older populations, ethnic minorities, the poorest communities, and people with underlying health problems.2.4

Global warming is also contributing to the decline in the global yield potential of major crops, which has fallen from 1.8% to 5.6% since 1981; this decline, along with the effects of extreme weather and soil depletion, is hampering efforts to reduce undernutrition.4 Thriving ecosystems are essential for human health, and the widespread destruction of nature, including habitats and species, erodes water and food security and increases the risk of a pandemic.3.7.8

The consequences of the environmental crisis fall disproportionately on the countries and communities that have contributed the least to the problem and are least able to mitigate the damage. However, no country, however rich, can protect itself from these impacts. Letting the consequences fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable will lead to more conflict, food insecurity, forced displacement and zoonotic diseases, with serious implications for all countries and communities. As with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are overall as strong as our weakest member.

Elevations above 1.5 ° C increase the chances of reaching tipping points in natural systems that could lock the world in an extremely unstable state. This would critically undermine our ability to mitigate damage and prevent catastrophic and uncontrollable environmental change.9.10

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