<< Back to News
Public healthSep 6, 2021

Action needed to limit global temperature increases, restore biodiversity and protect health

More than 200 journals aimed at healthcare professionals have urged world leaders to take urgent steps to tackle the ‘catastrophic harm’ associated with climate change.

In an unprecedented move, the journals, which include The BMJ, The Lancet, Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal and the British Journal of Sports Medicine, have all simultaneously published an editorial on the topic.

Photo Credit: Ian A McMillan
Health is harmed by temperature increases and the destruction of the natural world


Calling for emergency action to be taken to limit global temperature increases, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health, the editorial argues that recent targets to reduce emissions and conserve biodiversity are not radical enough.

'Health is already being harmed by global temperature increases and the destruction of the natural world, a state of affairs health professionals have been bringing attention to for decades.

'The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse. Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with covid-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.'

The editorial was published today (6 September) in advance of next week’s UN General Assembly – one of the last international meetings being held before November’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

Now is the time, it argues, to deliver enhanced and ambitious climate plans to honour the goals of the Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change adopted by 195 countries in 2015.

The increasing prevalence of extreme temperatures, destructive weather events, and the widespread degradation of essential ecosystems disproportionately affects the most vulnerable groups of people, including children and the elderly, ethnic minorities, poorer communities and those with underlying health conditions, the editorial suggests.

Governments are urged to:

  • back the redesign of transport systems and cities
  • overhaul the production and distribution of food
  • transform markets for financial investments
  • make health systems more adaptable and responsive

‘As health professionals, we must do all we can to aid the transition to a sustainable, fairer, resilient, and healthier world,’ the editorial states. ‘We, as editors of health journals, call for governments and other leaders to act, marking 2021 as the year that the world finally changes course.'

The hottest temperature recorded in Canadian history was in June 2021 ... we can no longer hold our breath today and wait for change, we need to act now to ensure that we can breathe deeply tomorrow [Elizabeth Rohrs]

Dr Fiona Godlee, The BMJ's editor in chief, said: 'Health professionals have been on the frontline of the covid-19 crisis and they are united in warning that going above 1.5C and allowing the continued destruction of nature will bring the next, far deadlier crisis.

Dr Godlee added: 'Wealthier nations must act faster and do more to support those countries already suffering under higher temperatures. 2021 has to be the year the world changes course - our health depends on it.'

Professor Elizabeth Rohrs, editor in chief of the Canadian Journal of Respiratory Therapy, said: ‘The hottest temperature recorded in Canadian history was in June 2021 in British Columbia with record wildfires burning, increasing the risk to respiratory health with reduced air quality in 9 out of 13 provinces.' 

Professor Rohrs added: ‘We can no longer hold our breath today and wait for change, we need to act now to ensure that we can breathe deeply tomorrow.'

The editorial was co-written by 19 people, including the editors in chief of 17 health journals based around the world. It appeared in 233 international journals.

For more information, visit: https://www.bmj.com/content/374/bmj.n1734


Author: Ian A McMillan
<< Back to News
By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy and Privacy Policy.