Call for Emergency Action to Limit Global Temperature Increases, Restore Biodiversity, and Protect Health

Lukoye Atwoli; Abdullah H. Baqui; Thomas Benfield; Raffaella Bosurgi; Fiona Godlee; Stephen Hancocks; Richard Horton; Laurie Laybourn-Langton; Carlos Augusto Monteiro; Ian Norman; Kirsten Patrick; Nigel Praities; Marcel G.M. Olde Rikkert; Eric J. Rubin; Peush Sahni; Richard Smith; Nick Talley; Sue Turale; Damián Vázquez


Pediatr Nurs. 2021;47(5):213-215. 

In This Article

Global Targets are not Enough

Encouragingly, many governments, financial institutions, and businesses are setting targets to reach net-zero emissions, including targets for 2030. The cost of renewable energy is dropping rapidly. Many countries are aiming to protect at least 30% of the world's land and oceans by 2030 (High Ambition Coalition [HAC], n.d.).

These promises are not enough. Targets are easy to set and hard to achieve. They are yet to be matched with credible short and longer term plans to accelerate cleaner technologies and transform societies. Emissions reduction plans do not adequately incorporate health considerations (Global Climate and Health Alliance [GCHA], n.d.). Concern is growing that temperature rises above 1.5°C are beginning to be seen as inevitable, or even acceptable, to powerful members of the global community (Carbon Brief, 2020). Relatedly, current strategies for reducing emissions to net zero by the middle of the century implausibly assume that the world will acquire great capabilities to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (Anderson & Peters, 2016; Fajardy et al., 2019).

This insufficient action means that temperature increases are likely to be well in excess of 2°C, a catastrophic outcome for health and environmental stability (Climate Action Tracker, n.d). Critically, the destruction of nature does not have parity of esteem with the climate element of the crisis, and every single global target to restore biodiversity loss by 2020 was missed (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2020). This is an overall environmental crisis (Steffen et al., 2015).

Health professionals are united with environmental scientists, businesses, and many others in rejecting that this outcome is inevitable. More can and must be done now – in Glasgow and Kunming – and in the immediate years that follow. We join health professionals worldwide who have already supported calls for rapid action (Healthy Recovery, 2020; UK Health Alliance on Climate Change [HACC], n.d.).

Equity must be at the centre of the global response. Contributing a fair share to the global effort means that reduction commitments must account for the cumulative, historical contribution each country has made to emissions, as well as its current emissions and capacity to respond. Wealthier countries will have to cut emissions more quickly, making reductions by 2030 beyond those currently proposed and reaching net-zero emissions before 2050 (Climate Action Tracker, 2021; UNEP, 2020a). Similar targets and emergency action are needed for biodiversity loss and the wider destruction of the natural world.

To achieve these targets, governments must make fundamental changes to how our societies and economies are organised and how we live. The current strategy of encouraging markets to swap dirty for cleaner technologies is not enough. Governments must intervene to support the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, health systems, and much more. Global coordination is needed to ensure that the rush for cleaner technologies does not come at the cost of more environmental destruction and human exploitation.

Many governments met the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic with unprecedented funding. The environmental crisis demands a similar emergency response. Huge investment will be needed, beyond what is being considered or delivered anywhere in the world. But such investments will produce huge positive health and economic outcomes. These include high-quality jobs, reduced air pollution, increased physical activity, and improved housing and diet. Better air quality alone would realise health benefits that easily offset the global costs of emissions reductions (Markandya et al., 2018).

These measures will also improve the social and economic determinants of health, the poor state of which may have made populations more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic (Paremoer et al., 2021). But the changes cannot be achieved through a return to damaging austerity policies or the continuation of the large inequalities of wealth and power within and between countries.