Global warming by over 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels could “catastrophically” and irreversibly harm human health unless governments take immediate action to limit the temperature rise and halt the destruction of nature, more than 230 medical journals said in a joint editorial on Monday.
The editorial, which was also published by The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine, called for urgent action to reduce carbon emissions and “keep average global temperature increases below 1.5°C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health.”
“Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with Covid-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions,” it added.
The warning from the journals comes ahead of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly this month, the biodiversity summit in Kunming, China in October and the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.
Heat-related mortality among people over 65 years of age has increased by more than 50 per cent in the last 20 years, said the editorial, citing many published studies.
The first-of-its-kind joint editorial noted that rising temperatures across the world have led to increasing health complications such as dehydration, loss of kidney function, skin cancer, tropical infections, adverse mental health outcomes and pregnancy complications.
Such harm disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, including children, older populations, ethnic minorities and poorer communities.
“The risks to health of increases above 1.5°C are now well established. Indeed, no temperature rise is ‘safe’,” it added.
The health experts – including Fiona Godlee, the editor-in-chief of The BMJ – also warned that the decline in yield for major crops due to global warming along with the effects of extreme weather and soil depletion, is hampering efforts to reduce under-nutrition.
They said the widespread destruction of habitats and species is adding to these woes, posing a threat to water and food security, as well as increasing the chance of pandemics.
“Allowing the consequences to fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable will breed more conflict, food insecurity, forced displacement, and zoonotic disease — with severe implications for all countries and communities,” the authors said, adding that “no country, no matter how wealthy, can shield itself from these impacts.”
The editorial warned that global temperature increase above 1.5°C raises the chance of reaching tipping points that could “lock the world into an acutely unstable state,” which would prevent the possibilities of any remedy from “catastrophic run-away environmental change”.
“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,” it added.
Letting temperatures slip to an excess of 2°C may lead to a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability, the experts warned.
They highlighted the need for wealthier countries to cut emissions more quickly, making reductions by 2030 beyond those currently proposed and reaching net-zero emissions before 2050, along with similar targets and emergencies for biodiversity loss.
“In particular, countries that have disproportionately created the environmental crisis must do more to support low- and middle-income countries to build cleaner, healthier, and more resilient societies,” the authors noted.
They said high-income countries must go beyond their commitment of providing $100 billion a year and increase their contributions to and beyond 2025, adding that the financing should be through grants rather than loans, building local capabilities and truly empowering local communities.
According to the journal editors, the greatest threat to global public health is the “continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature.”
They call for all governments across the world to intervene to support the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, health systems.
“Urgent, society-wide changes must be made and will lead to a fairer and healthier world,” the editorial noted.
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