Over 200 medical journals have joined forces to urge the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify climate change and biodiversity loss as a global health emergency, emphasizing the potential for “catastrophic harm” to human well-being.
In a coordinated editorial released on Wednesday, a team of authors highlighted the severe consequences associated with rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and the decline of wildlife. They underscored the interconnectedness of these crises, asserting that it is crucial to address climate change and biodiversity loss as interrelated issues rather than in isolation.
The authors are calling on the WHO to officially declare both climate change and biodiversity loss as global health emergencies, asserting that treating them as separate problems is a “dangerous mistake.” They propose that this declaration should be made at or before the next World Health Assembly in May 2024.
This plea coincides with major climate talks at the next United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change and a forthcoming COP on biodiversity in 2024. As the world grapples with record-breaking heatwaves, fires, and storms, experts warn that the current climate challenges are relatively mild compared to what the future holds without substantial changes.
While the WHO has already acknowledged the health implications of the climate crisis, it is essential to differentiate between acute and chronic problems. The authors recognize that the WHO’s criteria for declaring a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) primarily apply to sudden and unexpected events, making it a challenge to classify the ongoing environmental issues as such.
Despite these hurdles, the call for an emergency declaration is seen as an opportunity to mobilize scientists, policymakers, and government officials during upcoming COP climate talks. Many countries heed the WHO’s declarations, which can influence policy decisions of member states and draw public attention to these pressing issues.
In Canada, medical associations and advocacy groups are also pushing for the recognition of climate-related health emergencies. They emphasize that emergency declarations must be accompanied by efforts to develop adaptation measures for extreme weather and stricter regulations on pollution and emissions.
While the road ahead is complex, the urgency of addressing climate change and biodiversity loss as a global health emergency is increasingly evident. The key lies in coordinated action and a sense of urgency to safeguard human health and the environment.
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