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Treat Climate And Biodiversity Crises As One Global Health Emergency

Above photo: Human health is increasingly impacted by the climate crisis and the corresponding loss of biodiversity. Stefan Cioata / Moment / Getty Images.

A new editorial published in more than 200 health journals challenges health professionals and world leaders to look at global biodiversity loss and climate change as “one indivisible crisis” that must be confronted as a whole.

The authors of the editorial call separating the two emergencies a “dangerous mistake,” and encourage the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global health emergency, a press release from The BMJ said.

“The climate crisis and loss of biodiversity both damage human health, and they are interlinked. That’s why we must consider them together and declare a global health emergency. It makes no sense for climate and nature scientists and politicians to consider the health and nature crises in separate silos,” said Kamran Abbasi, editor in chief of The BMJ, in the press release.

The editorial, “Time to treat the climate and nature crisis as one indivisible global health emergency,” was published in journals all over the world, including The Lancet, East African Medical Journal, National Medical Journal of India, Medical Journal of Australia, JAMA and Dubai Medical Journal.

The climate crisis has exacerbated extreme weather, air pollution, rising temperatures and the spread of infectious diseases across the globe. The biodiversity and climate crisis impacts human health, with the most vulnerable and poorest communities bearing most of the burden, the authors wrote in the editorial.

Water quality has been damaged, causing an increase in disease spread. Ocean acidification has impacted marine life and the quality of seafood for billions of people.

“This indivisible planetary crisis will have major effects on health as a result of the disruption of social and economic systems — shortages of land, shelter, food, and water, exacerbating poverty, which in turn will lead to mass migration and conflict,” the authors wrote in the editorial.

Green spaces are essential for helping combat air pollution, cooling the air and ground and giving people the opportunity to connect with nature, get active and interact with each other, thereby reducing depression and anxiety.

At the 2022 United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP 15), world leaders agreed to conserve a minimum of 30 percent of the land, oceans and coastal areas on Earth by 2030. However, the authors of the editorial said nature and climate scientists who supply the evidence for the conferences mostly work independently and many of the agreed-upon targets have not been fulfilled.

“Yet many commitments made at COPs have not been met. This has allowed ecosystems to be pushed further to the brink, greatly increasing the risk of arriving at ‘tipping points’ — abrupt breakdowns in the functioning of nature. If these events were to occur, the impacts on health would be globally catastrophic,” the authors wrote. “Even if we could keep global warming below an increase of 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels, we could still cause catastrophic harm to health by destroying nature.”

The authors argued that the risks, along with health impacts that are already occurring, point to the need for WHO to declare the nature and climate crisis together as an indivisible global health emergency at or before the May 2024 World Health Assembly.

“Tackling this emergency requires the COP processes to be harmonised. As a first step, the respective conventions must push for better integration of national climate plans with biodiversity equivalents,” the authors wrote in the editorial.

For the health of humanity, health professionals must advocate for the restoration of biodiversity and addressing of climate change, and political leaders need to take note of the health threats brought on by the global emergency, as well as the benefits that could be gained from tackling it.

“Health professionals are highly trusted by the public, and they have a central role to play in articulating this important message and advocating for politicians to recognise and take urgent action to address the global health emergency. Over 200 health journals are today sending an unequivocal message,” Abbasi said in the press release.

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