October 2016 lshtm; Healthcare professionals must play a key role to influence policy on tackling climate change, argue leading experts in an editorial published in The BMJ.
Professor Sir Andy Haines from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan from University of California at San Diego suggest that health professionals must lead in urging drastic reductions in carbon dioxide and short lived climate pollutants (SLCPS) – the main contributors to climate change.
The SLCPs – methane, black carbon, ozone and hydrofluorocarbons, contribute as much as 40% to climate change and are up to 2,000 times more potent per molecule than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. They are also known as ‘super pollutants’ in relation to public health effects.
Fine particulate air matter from solid biomass fuels, such as black carbon particles, contribute to around 7 million deaths annually, mostly from heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease following household and outdoor exposure.
Reductions in SLCPs and carbon dioxide are necessary in order to stabilise the climate below 2°C warming, saving millions of lives through reducing threats to health directly, as well as those posed by events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and fires.
The editorial explains that if past trends in emission growth continued beyond 2050, future generations will witness around 4°C warming ‘with devastating consequence.’ Reducing SLCPs and therefore cutting pollution, will reduce the rate of warming by as much as 50% by 2050, preventing approximately 2.4 million premature deaths annually.
Outlining their recommendations, the authors argue that: “Health professionals have key roles in fighting climate change caused by both short lived climate pollutants and carbon dioxide…
“Health professionals can and should emphasise the health benefits of a decarbonised economy and engage fully with industry leaders to achieve this goal. Industry leaders must become part of the solution, to safeguard future economic prospects.
“The recent WHO conference on climate change and health concluded with a clarion call to the health community: it is imperative that health professionals worldwide show strong leadership in tackling climate change.”