Published on
The Telegraph/UK

Doctors Warn of Global Health Catastrophe Unless Climate Change Is Fixed

A failure to tackle climate change will lead to a ''global health catastrophe'', leading doctors warned today.


Mother is seen putting to bed her daughter in the malaria ward of an Ugandan hospital. Scientists have repeatedly warned climate change could affect health in many ways, ranging from malnutrition caused by drought to the risk of cholera from flooding and the spread of mosquito-borne disease to temperate zones. (AFP/File/Walter Astrada)

But taking steps to cut the world's carbon emissions, such as eating less meat and switching to cleaner energy, will have benefits for people's health, an editorial published in both the Lancet and British Medical Journal (BMJ) said.

And in a letter accompanying the editorial, medical chiefs in the UK, Ireland and around the world called on doctors to put pressure on politicians meeting in Copenhagen in December in a bid to secure a new global deal on cutting emissions.

The heads of the Royal Colleges said doctors should demand world leaders listen to the scientific evidence of climate change and implement strategies to tackle emissions that will benefit the health of people around the globe.

A failure to negotiate a strong deal could have ''catastrophic'' results, with those in poorest countries hit hardest by the impacts on health of drought and pressure on water resources, storms, floods and conflict.

But ''what's good for the climate is good for health'', the editorial by Lord Michael Jay of medical charity Merlin and Professor Michael Marmot, director of the International Institute for Society and Health, said.

''The measures needed to combat climate change coincide with those needed to ensure a healthier population and reduce the burden on health services,'' they wrote.

''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.''

Efforts to tackle climate change will also be an opportunity to address health inequalities between rich and poor, they said.

A successful outcome at Copenhagen ''is vital for our future as a species and for our civilisation'', while failure to agree radical reductions in emissions would spell ''a global health catastrophe'', they warned.

Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the BMJ, said: ''Politicians may be scared to push for radical reductions in emissions because some of the necessary changes to the way we live won't please voters.

''Doctors are under no such constraint. On the contrary we have a responsibility as health professionals to warn people how bad things are likely to get if we don't act now.

''The good news is that we have a positive message - that what is good for the climate is good for health.''

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