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Climate change a ‘medical emergency’, says study



The threat climate change poses to human health is so great it should be considered a “medical emergency” and has the potential to undermine the last fifty years of gains in development and global health, according to a UCL-led Commission.

The research, which has been published in the Lancet, argues that the “potentially catastrophic” risk to human health rising temperatures presents has previously been underestimated. It adds that while the technologies and finance to tackle the issue can be made available, global political will to implement them is lacking.

Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and co-chair of the commission, said, “We see climate change as a major health issue and this is often neglected in the policy debates.

“On our current trajectory, going to 4C [temperature increase] is somewhere we don’t want to go and that has very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival and could undermine all of the last half-century’s gains. We see that as a medical emergency because the action we need to do to stop that in its track and get us back into a 2C trajectory or less requires action now – and action in the next ten years – otherwise the game could be over.”

The paper makes series key recommendations that it urges governments to implement over the next five years. These include investing in climate change and public health research to build up a better understanding of the adaption needs and potential health benefits, and scaling-up finance for climate resilient health systems around the world, including reducing the environmental impact of health care.

It also calls for governments to encourage a transition to cities that support and promote healthy lifestyles, such as increasing access to green spaces. One of the recommendation centres on fossil fuels and the need to transition to a clean energy system.

The study notes that coal in the current energy mix should see a “rapid phase out” to target air pollution. The paper argues that technological and financial resources to achieve a decarbonised global economy and secure public health benefits are available, however much of this is still being directed to the fossil fuel industry.

As a result they argue that the issue is a political one, the research states, “Bold political commitment can ensure that the technical expertise, technology, and finance to prevent further significant climate change is readily available, and is not a barrier to action.”

Despite the threat of climate change being described as a “medical emergency” the study argues that then world now has one of the greatest opportunities to improve global health this century.

Photo: AUDIBERT via Freeimages

Further reading:

Health professional call for immediate ban on fracking due to health risks

Medical students call for health research funders to divest from fossil fuels

Green spaces in cities positively affect mental health

Prince Charles: A healthy planet means healthier people

Report: fossil fuel investments ‘incompatible’ with health sector’s responsibility


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