Emergency Action on Climate Crisis Cannot Wait for the Pandemic, Says Unprecedented Editorial

Sept. 7, 2021

Washington, D.C. – September 7, 2021 – Today top health journals across the world have simultaneously published an editorial calling for world leaders to take emergency action to transform societies and limit climate change, restore biodiversity and protect health. The editorial is published in over 200 leading journals, including the American Society for Microbiology’s open-access journal, mBio, the Lancet, the East African Medical Journal, the Chinese Science Bulletin, the New England Journal of Medicine, the International Nursing Review, the National Medical Journal of India, The British Medical Journal, the Revista de Saúde Pública (Brazil) and the Medical Journal of Australia. Never have so many journals combined to publish the same editorial.

A companion piece, also published in mBio, highlights another goal of ASM in publishing the joint editorial: calling for microbiologists to engage in climate research. “Our support for this joint editorial… is also our call for the microbial sciences community to commit and contribute to advance our understanding of climate change, microbial systems, and their relationship to various aspects of human well-being,” the authors write. The companion editorial is penned by Nguyen Nguyen, ASM’s Director of the American Academy of Microbiology (Academy), and Arturo Casadevall, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Academy.

The joint editorial is published in advance of the UN General Assembly, one of the last international meetings taking place before the (COP26) climate conference in Glasgow, UK in November. This is a crucial moment to urge all countries to deliver enhanced and ambitious climate plans to honor the goals of the Paris Agreement. In a year of Covid-19 and crucial environmental conferences, the editorial warns that the greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to take adequate action to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature.

Current promises are not enough

For decades, health professionals and health journals have warned of the severe and growing impacts on health from climate change and the destruction of nature. Heat related mortality, health impacts from destructive weather events and the widespread degradation of ecosystems essential to human health are just a few of the impacts that we are seeing more of due to a changing climate. These impacts disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, ethnic minorities, poorer communities and those with underlying health conditions.

The editorial warns that while recent targets to reduce emissions and conserve nature are welcome, they are not enough and are yet to be matched with credible short and long term plans. It urges governments to intervene to transform societies and economies by supporting the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments and health systems. Such investments will produce huge positive benefits, including high quality jobs, reduced air pollution, increased physical activity and improved housing and diet. Better air quality alone would contribute to health benefits that easily offset the global costs of emissions reductions. 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.

Global cooperation hinges on wealthy nations doing more

The editorial argues that sufficient global action can only be achieved if high-income countries do far more to support the rest of the world and to reduce their own consumption. Developed countries must commit to increasing climate finance: fulfilling their outstanding commitment to provide $100 billion a year, have a dual focus on mitigation and adaptation, including improving the resilience of health systems. Crucially, the editorial argues that this money should be provided in the form of grants, rather than loans, and should come alongside forgiving large debts, which constrain the agency of so many low-income countries. Additional funding must be marshalled to compensate for inevitable loss and damage caused by the consequences of the environmental crisis.

Any warming makes our planet more unsafe, and the recent IPCC report shows that until the world has reached net-zero greenhouse gases the planet will continue to warm. We are already seeing these impacts globally and we already know that the consequences of the environmental crisis fall disproportionately on those countries and communities that have contributed least to the problem. A business-as-usual scenario would spell disaster for the planet. Governments must seize this opportunity to put forward ambitious climate goals for the sake of our health, for people worldwide and future generations.  

The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health practitioners. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.

ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications, educational opportunities and advocacy efforts. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.   

Author: ASM Communications

ASM Communications
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