Call for WHO to declare the nature and climate crisis a global health emergency

A summary of a recent editorial published in the British Medical Journal

A recent editorial published in the British Medical Journal has highlighted the need for climate change and the loss of biodiversity to be seen as two connected issues. Along with over 200 other health journals, it has called for the combined nature and climate crises to be declared a global health emergency.

Joint action

The United Nations (UN) has responded to the climate crisis and the nature crisis separately. For example, the 28th UN Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change is being held this month in Dubai but the 16th COP on biodiversity will be held elsewhere in May 2024.

These issues are part of the same complex problem. Climate change is having a major impact on nature and biodiversity. And the widespread damage we are causing to the natural world is making climate change worse.

Similarly, any action we take to either combat climate change or restore biodiversity can have an impact on the other. For example, we might plant forests with one type of tree to reduce carbon dioxide and climate change. However, this could have a damaging effect on ecosystems. It is therefore vital that both issues are addressed together.

How does this impact health

Both the climate and nature crisis are directly damaging human health. There has already been a lot of research about how rising temperatures and biodiversity loss will affect our health. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events and air pollution are all being made worse by the climate and nature crisis. These will have an impact on our lung health.

Changes in the way we use land have forced many species into closer contact. This has increased the spread of pathogens, which could cause new diseases and pandemics.

Global health emergency

The international community have made lots of promises to act on both the nature and climate crises. However, many of these commitments have not been met. Ecosystems and the global climate have been pushed to the edge. Scientists say that we are at risk of arriving at dangerous tipping points.

This has caused over 200 health journals to call on the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the climate and nature crisis a global health emergency. There are 3 conditions for WHO to call a situation a public health emergency:

  • It is serious, sudden, unusual, or unexpected.
  • It could affect multiple countries.
  • It may require immediate international action.

The signatories to this editorial say that the climate and nature crisis meet these conditions. They are calling on health professionals to advocate for biodiversity and fighting climate change. And that it is crucial to call this crisis what it is: a global public health emergency.

Read the original editorial:

Time to treat the climate and nature crisis as one indivisible global health emergency