Warning:

Climate change will damage your health

World's doctors unite in challenge to politicians over 'biggest health threat of this century'

A A A

Human society faces a global health catastrophe if climate change is not effectively tackled at the UN conference in Copenhagen in December, leading doctors from around the world warn today.

Calling on medical practitioners everywhere to put pressure on politicians in advance of the meeting, the doctors say that the world's poorest people will be hit first by the health effects of global warming, but add that "no one will be spared".

Their stark challenge to governments follows a report in May which said climate change would represent "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century".

Malaria, dengue fever and other tropical diseases would increase, the study predicted, spelling out how rising temperatures will cause health crises in half a dozen areas: there will be increased problems with food supplies, clean water and sanitation, especially in developing countries. Meanwhile, the migration of peoples will combine with extreme weather events such as hurricanes and severe floods to make for disastrous conditions in human settlements.

The doctors make their appeal as momentum begins to build for the UN conference, which will be held in the Danish capital from 7-18 December, and which will see the world community attempt to draw up a comprehensive new climate treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol. Its crucial objective will be drastic worldwide cuts in the emissions of industrial gases such as carbon dioxide which are causing the atmosphere to warm.

On Tuesday, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon is convening a climate change summit of world leaders in New York, including Gordon Brown and President Obama, to try to give some impetus to the tortuous pre-conference negotiating process – the draft text of 200 pages already contains 2,000 "square brackets": that is, points where the 190 countries taking part disagree.

The doctors' challenge to politicians to sort this out comes in a letter published simultaneously in Britain's two principal health journals, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.

In the letter, Professor Ian Gilmore, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, joins 17 other national doctors' leaders from the US to Australia in saying: "There is a real danger that politicians [at Copenhagen] will be indecisive, especially in such turbulent economic times as these. Should their response be weak, the results for international health could be catastrophic."

They go on: "Doctors are still seen as respected and independent, largely trusted by their patients and the societies in which they practise ... As leaders of physicians across many countries, we call on doctors to demand that their politicians listen to the clear facts that have been identified in relation to climate change and act now to implement strategies that will benefit the health of communities worldwide."

The letter follows the report on the health effects of global warming which was launched jointly last May by The Lancet and University College London (UCL), and which squarely labelled climate change as the 21st century's biggest global health threat.

That report's lead author, Professor Anthony Costello, director of UCL's Institute for Global Health, said at the time: "The big message of this report is that climate change is a health issue affecting billions of people, not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation. The impacts will be felt not just in the UK, but all around the world – and not just in some distant future but in our lifetimes and those of our children."

Today's letter is accompanied by an editorial written by two of Britain's most senior figures in the area of health and development: Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the UCL International Institute for Society and Health, and Lord Jay of Ewelme, who as Sir Michael Jay was head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and is now chair of Merlin, (Medical Emergency Relief, International), the UK charity which provides healthcare and medical relief for vulnerable people caught up in natural disasters, conflicts and major disease outbreaks.

The two men write: "A successful outcome at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December is vital for our future as a species, and for our civilisation." And they echo the writers of the letter in asserting: "Failure to agree radical reductions in emissions would spell a global health catastrophe."

They point out that there is now wide consensus that global temperatures are rising and that human actions are responsible; that there is a need to cut carbon emissions by at least 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change; and that the economic argument that taking action now rather than later will be cheaper has also been widely accepted since the Stern report in 2006. Furthermore, they say, the election of President Obama has shifted policy in the US from seeking to block an agreement to seeking to find one.

They go on: "So the chances of success should be good but the politics are tough. The most vocal arguments are about equity: the rich world caused the problem so why should the poor world pay to put it right? Can the rich world do enough through its own actions and through its financial and technological support for the poor to persuade the poor to join in a global agreement?"

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions