Call for Emergency Action to Limit Global Temperature Increases, Restore Biodiversity, and Protect Health

Lukoye Atwoli; Abdullah H. Baqui; Thomas Benfield; Raffaella Bosurgi; Fiona Godlee; Stephen Hancocks; Richard Horton; Laurie Laybourn-Langton; Carlos Augusto Monteiro; Ian Norman; Kirsten Patrick; Nigel Praities; Marcel G.M. Olde Rikkert; Eric J. Rubin; Peush Sahni; Richard Smith; Nick Talley; Sue Turale; Damián Vázquez

Disclosures

Pediatr Nurs. 2021;47(5):213-215. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Wealthy nations must do much more, much faster.

Introduction

The UN General Assembly in September 2021 will bring countries together at a critical time for marshalling collective action to tackle the global environmental crisis. They will meet again at the biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, and the climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK. Ahead of these pivotal meetings, we – the editors of health journals worldwide – call for urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1.5°C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health.

Health is already being harmed by global temperature increases and the destruction of the natural world, as state of affairs health professionals have been bringing attention to for decades (Healthy Recovery, 2020). 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 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], 2018; Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services [IPBES], 2019). Despite the world's necessary preoccupation with COVID-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.

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

The risks to health of increases above 1.5°C are now well established (IPCC, 2018). Indeed, no temperature rise is "safe." In the past 20 years, heat related mortality among people aged over 65 has increased by more than 50% (Watts et al., 2021). Higher temperatures have brought increased dehydration and renal function loss, dermatological malignancies, tropical infections, adverse mental health outcomes, pregnancy complications, allergies, and cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity and mortality (Haines & Ebi, 2019; Rocque et al., 2021). Harms disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including among children, older populations, ethnic minorities, poorer communities, and those with underlying health problems (IPCC, 2018; Watts et al., 2021).

Global heating is also contributing to the decline in global yield potential for major crops, falling by 1.8–5.6% since 1981; this, together with the effects of extreme weather and soil depletion, is hampering efforts to reduce undernutrition (Watts et al., 2021). Thriving ecosystems are essential to human health, and the widespread destruction of nature, including habitats and species, is eroding water and food security and increasing the chance of pandemics (IPBES, 2019; IPCC, 2019; United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], 2020b).

The consequences of the environmental crisis fall disproportionately on those countries and communities that have contributed least to the problem and are least able to mitigate the harms. Yet no country, no matter how wealthy, can shield itself from these impacts. 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. As with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are globally as strong as our weakest member.

Rises above 1.5°C increase the chance of reaching tipping points in natural systems that could lock the world into an acutely unstable state. This would critically impair our ability to mitigate harms and to prevent catastrophic, runaway environmental change (Lenton et al., 2019; Wunderling et al. 2021).

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