The editors of 200 reputable periodicals that cover health issues have issued an appeal to the United Nations, politicians and health officials. Together, they are asking for recognition of the modern climate and biodiversity crisis as a single, indivisible and global public health emergency. At the same time, they point out what they think needs to be done to save the world from a medical disaster.
Climate and biodiversity – interrelationships
The basic objection of the signatories of the appeal is related to the fact that the world treats the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis as two independent challenges. In late November and early December this year. Dubai will host the COP28 climate summit, while a biodiversity conference is planned for April in Turkey. Unfortunately, the participants and agendas of the two events diverge, failing to adequately address the challenge of the global health emergency.
Our planet is really one interdependent system, and losses in one part of it can easily spill over to another. Rising global temperatures are causing droughts, floods and fires, which in turn are destroying vegetation and exacerbating soil erosion. Thus, the potential for carbon storage decreases, and this means a further increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and associated warming.
“Only by recognizing climate and biodiversity as parts of the same complex problem will we be able to find solutions to avoid maladaptation and maximize the beneficial results of action,” – the appeal reads.
Meanwhile, by helping one selected system, we may be helping or hurting another. A good example of this is the planting of single-species forests, which serves to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the air, but at the same time reduces biodiversity by disrupting natural ecosystems.
How does the environmental crisis affect health?
The global health emergency stems from both a climate crisis and a natural disaster. Both of these problems lead to social and economic disruption, causing impoverishment, migration and conflict.
Increasing water pollution is not only a cause of spreading diseases. It harms even very remote ecosystems, seeping into the oceans. In turn, the loss of genetic diversity among plants threatens the quality of food, especially when 1/5 of the global population is kept alive by wildlife. Using ever-larger tracts of land, we are crowding natural species into ever-shrinking areas, resulting in a more intense exchange of pathogens and potentially meaning more epidemics.
The fact that people are losing contact with nature has been associated with the spread of autoimmune, mental, metabolic and allergic diseases. Without green spaces, we are more prone to stress, depression and social isolation. Reduced biodiversity also means reduced potential for the development of new drugs based on natural active compounds. Finally, humanity’s global health emergency also stems from inequalities between countries – the most vulnerable societies bear the greatest costs of the environmental crisis.
Time to declare a global public health emergency
According to representatives of the medical and scientific press, the time has come to consolidate action in the spheres of climate and biodiversity. Unfortunately, so far many of the goals set at summits dedicated to both are far from being realized. Some ecosystems are already on the brink, and their collapse could have catastrophic consequences for human health.
According to the appellants, the World Health Organization should declare a global public health emergency, as all three conditions entitling it to do so are met: the serious and unusual nature of the problem, the impact on public health across borders, and the need for immediate international action. The decision should be announced before or during 77. session of the World Health Assembly, scheduled for May 2024.
In addition, the signatories suggest that the upcoming COP conferences should address the need to integrate activities. Health officials should be advocates for biodiversity restoration and climate change mitigation to protect the health of the public. Politicians, on the other hand, must learn to recognize the dangers of the planetary crisis and the benefits to society if we start thinking about the problems comprehensively.
The appeal proclaiming a global public health emergency was published by all the editorial boards involved in its preparation. These include such prestigious journals as “BMJ,” “JAMA” and “The Lancet,” but also specialized trade periodicals and national publications, such as “The Lancet. From Turkey, Sierra Leone, Tunisia or Pakistan.