Industry Highlights – The Human Toll of Climate Change

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 220 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the start of the pandemic. There have been 4,713,543 deaths by September 23, 2021 and, unfortunately, still counting. There is a palpable urgency in the air to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and the medical community is on the front line, enduring the fight. Despite being at the center of this global pandemic, 220 of the leading nursing, medical, and public health journals worldwide felt obligated to urge action on climate change for humanity’s sake. On September 6th, there was a striking editorial published simultaneously in 231 different international journals that declared “the greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature.”

This unprecedented, coordinated call for action is aimed at all world leaders and reflects the primary consensus of the medical community. The timing was no coincidence as the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly was beginning on September 14, followed by the heavily anticipated 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26, in Glasgow in November.  When discussing this editorial with the Wall Street Journal, the editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine noted “It is evident that climate change is a problem. What is less evident to people is that it is a public-health problem, not just a physical catastrophe. ” Decarbonization efforts in industry do dominate global media coverage. However, there are so many interconnected consequences that the health effects are not as prioritized. Health professionals have been trying to bring this to the attention of world leaders for a long time, with a consistent urgency only changed by the escalating level of support and agreement. There was a previous letter to the G20 leaders in May of 2020 calling for stimulus efforts to fight the pandemic to also take on the foundational factors that increased the vulnerability of society. They noted that the enormous funding within “key sectors like health care, transport, energy and agriculture must have health protection and promotion embedded at their core.”

Relative to the “pre-industrial period”, the global temperature is drawing near a 1.5°C change. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) described, the world drifts towards a state of emergency without immediate intervention. Climate change is associated with meteorological and extreme weather events. There have been multiple storms described with statements like “once in a lifetime”, “once in 50 years” or “once in a decade” that are now happening with ever increasing frequency. Not only do these leave death and devastation in their wake, but they also intensify the growth of infectious diseases, heat wave related mortality, and diminished air quality, amongst other repercussions.  The health-focused editorial focused on the disparity in global public health, where the crisis disproportionately effects countries and communities that have contributed least to the problems. Wealthier countries can achieve large jumps in emission reduction but there is more need to support low- and middle-income countries if any of these efforts are to be universally effective. To build a sustainable, resilient, and fair future, high income countries will need to go beyond their initial commitment, intervening in transportation and health infrastructure, food production and distribution, as well as financial markets.

There is no doubt an abundance of gratitude for the research and medical communities that came together to combat the pandemic, caring for the plethora of patients and bringing a vaccination to reality. They continue to fight the good fight, never relenting. However, the gravity of the climate crisis weighs heavily and seeing the world crashing in one realm while you’re battling in another was too much. We are bearing witness to their harmonized plea for action. The request is not for a miracle but for a sustainable approach that can be coordinated on a global scale. There is a fundamental need to make foundational changes in the way we live, however, this does not mean an end to our way of life. As they note, we all “must do all we can to aid the transition to a sustainable, fairer, resilient, and healthier world”. With the unambiguous statement by the scientific community about the overwhelming evidence of climate change being caused by human action, it is now time for human action to overcome it. This will take all of us, combining our efforts and attacking the problems from different angles. As a contributing member of the decarbonization movement, Nilar is honored to be part of an innovative and tenacious group seeking a better tomorrow.