More than 400 international health organisations and professionals, representing two-thirds of global healthcare workers, have signed an open letter calling on politicians to consider the health benefits of climate action ahead of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.
“We know that climate change is impacting people’s health, this is increasingly visible around the world. We also know that many solutions to address climate change offer tremendous health co-benefits,” said Dr Jeni Miller of Global Climate and Health Alliance, the organisation which drafted the letter. “The health community is really seeing that if we don’t step up and call for action on climate change, we’re failing the patients and the communities that we care for.”
The letter lists 7 million premature deaths a year due to pollution and disturbance of global food systems by extreme weather as some of the health detriments caused by the climate crisis. It also argues that the costs of policies such as improving the cleanliness of air and water and creating more secure food supplies would be offset by savings in healthcare costs.
The appeal has also been signed by the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and coincides with the publication of a special report on climate and health by the WHO.
Paediatric healthcare providers from the UK will cycle from London to Glasgow with a copy of the report to officially present it to world leaders at the summit, after the report is delivered to them, by bike, from Geneva by Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, the head of the WHO’s health and climate department.
The report includes 10 recommendations, and intends to “offer positive encouragement” to world leaders emphasising the positive health effects of climate crisis mitigation, according to Campbell-Lendrum. “We think that [the report] will boost the argument of any government or stakeholder around the world who is trying to encourage their population to get behind climate action,” he said. “These health gains are so large they … provide a compelling argument.”
Developing nations in the global south, which have historically contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions, are among the areas where health is worst affected by the climate crisis, according to the report. “Some of these small island developing states will within the next several decades be flooded by rising sea levels – there is no way that you can protect health for those populations if the country is submerged,” Campbell-Lendrum said.
Both the report and the open letter also stress the importance of a “green recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic. “Countries have leveraged tremendous amounts of money to deal with the economic impacts of the pandemic,” Miller said. “Many of those investments are still going into propping up carbon-intensive industries. We’re making this massive public investment into something which will bring about and exacerbate the unfolding health crisis that’s driven by climate change.”
Paths to green recovery suggested by the report could include preventing public funds from going to fossil industries, as well as dedicating funds to ensuring the same shift away from fossils is possible in developing countries.
“For both Covid and the climate crisis, there is a need for coordinated global action, because nobody is safe until everybody is safe,” Campbell-Lendrum said.