As a newly published WHO report calls for ambitious climate commitments as the only path to long-term recovery from pandemic, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) has joined the global health community in renewing its call on international governments for urgent action to prevent an increase in mean global temperatures of more than 1.5oC, and to mitigate the worst effects of the climate emergency on environmental and human health. 

The call comes ahead of the UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK as more than 300 organizations representing at least 45 million nurses, doctors and health professionals worldwide – about three quarters of the global health workforcesigned an open letter to the 197 government leaders and national delegations ahead of COP26, warning that the climate crisis is the single biggest health threat facing humanity, and calling on world leaders to deliver on climate action (1).

The letter’s publication coincides with the release today of a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), which argues that countries can only ensure a long-term recovery from the pandemic by implementing ambitious climate commitments. The report delivers ten high-level recommendations, backed up by action points, resources and case studies, including the need to place health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks (see note 2 below for full list).

The letter states: “Wherever we deliver care, in our hospitals, clinics and communities around the world, we are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change,”. “Those people and nations who have benefited most from the activities that caused the climate crisis, especially fossil fuel extraction and use, have a great responsibility to do everything possible to help those who are now most at risk.”

Professor Maggie Rae, President of the Faculty of Public Health (a UKHACC member), said:
“This letter represents the voice of the international health community coming together to urge Governments around the world to take immediate and determined action on the climate crisis to protect health. Climate change and environmental degradation is the greatest threat to global public health this century. We are already seeing some of the impacts of poor planetary health on human health, and we must work together with urgency to maintain a thriving global ecosystem now and for future generations.”

Both the letter and the report argue that health and equity must be at the center of climate change response; while the letter calls for action, the report provides the blueprint for delivering climate action that will protect the health of people around the world.

The letter, which has been signed by diverse medical organisations and high profile individuals, such as WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Medical Association, the International Council of Nurses and Doctors for Extinction Rebellion Switzerland, calls on all governments to update their national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, in line with their fair share of limiting warming to 1.5°C. A recent report by UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) found that countries’ collective climate commitments are falling far short of this goal, and would lead to a global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C by the end of the century (3,4).

The 45 million health professionals represented in the letter are demanding a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels; for high income countries to provide the promised transfer of climate funds; for investments in resilient and low carbon health systems; and for pandemic recovery investments to support climate action and reduce social and health inequities. 

The signatories of the open letter represent every region of the world, and include the International Council of Nurses, the World Medical Association, the International Federation of Medical Students Associations, the International Confederation of Midwives, and the International Pediatrics Association as well as many members of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, such as the British Medical Association, several Royal Colleges of Medicine, the Royal College of Nursing and others. See a full list of signatories here

In addition to the measures detailed in the global letter, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change is also supporting a campaign which specifically calls for plans to develop a new oil field off the coast of Shetland to be scrapped. Such projects are not consistent with the UK’s commitment to reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050, or with the limiting of global warming to 1.5°C, and would contribute to the significant harms to health that will be experienced in the UK and around the world if that threshold is crossed.


Notes to Editors:

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) is a coalition of leading UK health bodies including most Royal Colleges of medicine, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, Faculties of health, the British Medical Journal (The BMJ) and The Lancet. Together UKHACC advocates on behalf of health professionals for responses to climate change which simultaneously protect and promote public health.

More information on the #HealthyClimate Prescription letter is available here.

The WHO report “The Health Argument for Climate Action” is available here. As part of key climate action, the report recommends:

  • placing health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks, prioritizing those climate interventions with the largest health-, social- and economic gains;
  • guiding a rapid transition to renewable energy, to save lives from air pollution, particularly from coal combustion, ensuring energy security for health care facilities, and end energy poverty;
  • promoting sustainable, healthy urban design and transport systems, with improved land-use, access to public space, and priority for walking, cycling and public transport;
  • promoting sustainable food supply chains and more nutritious diets that deliver on both climate and health outcomes;
  • financing a transition towards a wellbeing economy;
  • mobilizing and support the health community on climate action.

https://www.who.int/health-topics/climate-change 

References:

  1. Climate Action Tracker, Fair Share: https://climateactiontracker.org/methodology/cat-rating-methodology/fair-share/
  2. UNFCCC, Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, 17 September 2021, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/cma2021_08_adv_1.pdf

Contacts:
Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, Global Climate and Health Alliance, +34 691 826 764 (Europe) – press@climateandhealthalliance.org

Ceridwen Johnson, World Health Organization – johnsonc@who.int 

Arthur Wyns, World Health Organization – wynsa@who.int


Featured image by the NASA Earth Observations (NEO) team using data courtesy of the Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LPDAAC) and the MODIS Land Science Team.