Helen Cortez / EyeEm via Getty Images

Global health community calls for climate action ahead of COP26 to avert “biggest health threat facing humanity”

Geneva, 11 October 2021 - The George Institute for Global Health has joined more than 300 organizations representing at least 45 million nurses, doctors and health professionals worldwide – about three quarters of the global health workforce – in signing an open letter to the 197 government leaders and national delegations ahead of the UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK. The letter warns that the climate crisis is the single biggest health threat facing humanity, and calls on world leaders to deliver on climate action.

The letter’s publication coincides with the release today of a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), which argues that countries can only ensure a long-term recovery from the pandemic by implementing ambitious climate commitments. The report delivers ten high-level recommendations, backed up by action points, resources and case studies, including the need to place health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks; to promote sustainable, healthy urban design and transport systems, with priority for walking, cycling and public transport; and promotion of sustainable food supply chains and more nutritious diets that deliver on both climate and health outcomes.

The letter states:

“Wherever we deliver care, in our hospitals, clinics and communities around the world, we are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change. Those people and nations who have benefited most from the activities that caused the climate crisis, especially fossil fuel extraction and use, have a great responsibility to do everything possible to help those who are now most at risk.”

Professor Kent Buse, Director of the Healthier Societies Program at The George Institute for Global Health, said:

“The health of people and planet is intimately connected – and both are being severely and negatively impacted by Global Heating. We need ambitious commitments, financing and action at COP26. As co-chair of the Planetary Health task team at The George Institute for Global Health, I am proud that The Institute has joined fellow health professionals from around the world in delivering the Healthy Climate Prescription to leaders meeting in Glasgow later this month. Let’s keep the pressure up."

Both the letter and the report argue that health and equity must be at the centre of climate change response; while the letter calls for action, the report provides the blueprint for delivering climate action that will protect the health of people around the world.

The letter, which has been signed by diverse medical organisations and high profile individuals, such as WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Medical Association, the International Council of Nurses, and journals The Lancet and The BMJ, calls on all governments to update their national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, in line with their fair share of limiting warming to 1.5°C. A recent report by UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) found that countries’ collective climate commitments are falling far short of this goal, and would lead to a global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C by the end of the century.

The 45 million health professionals represented in the letter are demanding a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels; for high-income countries to provide the promised transfer of climate funds; for investments in resilient and low carbon health systems; and for pandemic recovery investments to support climate action and reduce social and health inequities. 

The signatories of the open letter represent every region of the world, and include the International Council of Nurses, the World Medical Association, the International Federation of Medical Students Associations, the International Confederation of Midwives, and the International Pediatrics Association. See full list of signatories.


Image credit: Helen Cortez / EyeEm via Getty Images