In a first-of-its-kind campaign, over 200 medical journals are calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the climate and environmental crisis a global health emergency. Because human health is being directly damaged by both the climate crisis and the nature crisis.
To draw attention to the impending health consequences of the climate and environmental crisis, journals such as the BMJ, The Lancet, JAMA, the Medical Journal of Australia, the East African Medical Journal, the National Medical Journal of India and Dubai Medical Journal simultaneously published an alarming editorial.
A global health emergency
The editorial highlights that climate change and environmental degradation, including species extinction, represent an inseparable crisis and must be addressed together to preserve health and avoid catastrophe.
The mistake should not be made of reacting to the climate crisis and the environmental crisis as if they were separate challenges. “The climate crisis and biodiversity loss both harm human health, and they are linked,” emphasizes BMJ editor-in-chief Kamran Abbasi.
It makes no sense for climate and natural scientists and political leaders to view the health and nature crises in separate silos; instead, the climate crisis and the environmental crisis must be addressed together. According to experts, the WHO should therefore declare a global health emergency.
Health risks are increased
Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, air pollution and the spread of infectious diseases are some of the biggest health threats exacerbated by climate change.
For example, access to clean water is fundamental to human health and water pollution has led, among other things, to an increase in water-borne diseases.
Ocean acidification has also reduced the quality and quantity of seafood that billions of people rely on for their food and livelihood, experts report.
Increased risk of pandemics
The loss of biological diversity undermines the possibilities of a healthy diet and also hinders the discovery of new medicines derived from nature.
At the same time, changes in land use have brought tens of thousands of species into closer contact, encouraging the exchange of pathogens and the emergence of new diseases and pandemics.
As the WHO has already recognized in the One Health approach, the natural world consists of a single, interdependent system. Damage to one subsystem could lead to feedback that damages another.
Healthy nature offers health benefits
It is also beneficial for human health to have access to high-quality green spaces. Connecting with nature also reduces stress, loneliness and depression and promotes social interaction. However, this is threatened by increasing urbanization.
“Ecosystems have been pushed further to the edge, greatly increasing the risk of breakdowns in the functioning of nature” and “even if we could keep global warming below a 1.5°C increase over pre-industrial levels, we could “We are causing catastrophic damage to health by destroying nature,” the experts write.
Human health is already being directly damaged by the climate and environmental crisis, with the poorest and most vulnerable population groups often bearing the greatest burden, according to experts.
Health experts worldwide must work hard to restore biodiversity and combat climate change for the benefit of health, the experts emphasize.
In addition, policymakers should recognize both the serious health threats posed by the planetary crisis and the health benefits that can arise from addressing the crisis.
WHO called on action
To demonstrate the urgency of action, the WHO is called upon to declare the inextricable climate and nature crisis a global health emergency before or at the World Health Assembly in May 2024. As a first step, we should also push for better integration of the national climate plans with the corresponding biodiversity plans. (fp)