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378. Urgent Need for International Cooperation to Control Temperature, Restore Biodiversity and Protect Health

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In early September 2021, in anticipation of important international conferences such as the UN General Assembly in September, the UN Biodiversity Conference in October, and COP26 in November, the editors of more than 200 health and medical journals around the world, including The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, and The British Medical Journal, published a joint editorial urging world leaders to recognize climate change as the greatest public health crisis in the world and the need for urgent action to limit temperature increases, restore biodiversity, and protect health.

The editors of leading health journals say that the catastrophic health effects of rising global temperatures and the destruction of nature are irreversible and that immediate action must be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not wait for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the article, over the past two decades, heat wave-related mortality rates for people over 65 have increased by more than 50%. Rising temperatures can lead to dehydration, kidney failure, tropical infections, skin diseases, pregnancy complications, poor mental health, etc., with irreversible effects on children, minorities, the poor and vulnerable segments of society who already have health problems.

The editorial article also emphasized that rising global temperatures will also reduce yields of major crops. As a case in point, the article mentioned that crop yields have fallen by 1.8-5.6% since 1981, and extreme weather and soil degradation are hampering efforts to solve malnutrition. Healthy ecosystems are a prerequisite for human health, but the increasing destruction of nature is eroding water and food security and increasing the likelihood of pandemics.

As to the impact of climate change, the article mentioned that most of the damage is felt by countries and people least involved in its causes and lacking the capacity to enact mitigation measures and that no country, even the richest, is immune from these impacts. As a consequence, neglecting the negative impacts on vulnerable groups, the conditions for conflict, food insecurity, forced displacement, and zoonotic diseases are created, and eventually all countries will be affected, as demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A temperature increase of more than 1.5°C since the industrial revolution, a tipping point in nature, would increase the likelihood of rapid global instability, undermining our ability to mitigate damage and avert disaster. The joint editorial by the health journals stressed the urgency of international cooperation.


References

Lukoye Atwoli, et al. Call for Emergency Action to Limit Global Temperature Increases, Restore Biodiversity, and Protect Health. The Lancet: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)0191… 

The New England Journal of Medicine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMe2113200?query=featured_home&…;

The BMJ: https://www.bmj.com/content/374/bmj.n1734 

Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Director, Information Program)