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Failure to tackle climate change spells “global health catastrophe”

16 September 2009

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Failure to agree radical cuts in carbon dioxide emissions at the UN climate change conference in December would spell a “global health catastrophe”, according to an editorial published simultaneously by the BMJ and Lancet today (16 September 2009).

The scientific evidence that global temperatures are rising and that man is responsible has been widely accepted since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report in 2007, write Lord Michael Jay, Chair of emergency healthcare charity Merlin, and Professor Michael Marmot, Director of the International Institute for Society and Health.

They add that there is now equally wide consensus that we need to act now to prevent irreversible climate change.

The authors believe that what’s good for the climate is good for health. For example, a low carbon economy will mean less pollution. A low carbon diet (especially eating less meat) and more exercise will mean less cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. This is an opportunity too to advance health equity, which is increasingly seen as necessary for a healthy and happy society, they say.

A successful outcome at the UN conference in Copenhagen is vital for our future as a species and for our civilisation, the writers argue: “Failure to agree radical reductions in emissions spells a global health catastrophe, which is why health professionals must put their case forcefully now and after Copenhagen”, they conclude.

In an accompanying letter, 18 leaders of medical organisations across the world have called on politicians to heed the health effects of climate change when they meet in Copenhagen.

They warn that “there is a real danger that politicians will be indecisive, especially in such turbulent economic times as these.”

Doctors are still seen as respected and independent, largely trusted by their patients and the societies in which they practise, they write. As such, they urge doctors “to demand that their politicians listen to the clear facts that have been identified in relation to climate change and act now to implement strategies that will benefit the health of communities worldwide.”