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Medical community calls for unified motion on climate and biodiversity crises as global health emergency

In a compelling editorial recently published in BMC Public Health and 200 other health journals, the medical community called on members of the United Nations, health professionals, and political leaders to acknowledge that global biodiversity loss and the climate emergency are closely intertwined.

To this end, the World Health Organization (WHO) was asked to declare that the indivisible climate and nature crisis is a worldwide health emergency before the 77th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, in May 2024.

Only by considering climate and biodiversity as parts of the identical complex problem… can solutions be developed that avoid maladaptation and maximize the useful outcomes.”

Study: Time to treat the climate and nature crisis as one indivisible global health emergency. Image Credit: Sepp photography /

Climate crises fuel further biodiversity loss

The concept of planetary health acknowledges that the natural world comprises an interdependent system of unimaginable complexity. Damaging one aspect of this method can potentially destroy one other.

As global temperatures rise, the frequency of wildfires also increases, thereby devastating flowers, which ends up in lower carbon sequestration, higher rates of soil erosion, and increased global warming. On account of the extensive consequences of those feedback loops, climate change will likely contribute more to biodiversity loss than deforestation or other types of land-use change.

Given the chance, natural systems are remarkably resilient. That is exemplified by the role of marine phytoplankton as carbon sinks and the rapid rate at which vegetation regenerates on deforested land. Indigenous practices for natural resource management have often been sustainable and promoted regeneration and restoration while being historically unrecognized by immigrant populations.

This points to the challenges of restoring ecosystems. More specifically, actions to guard one system could help one other, resembling when soil replenishment increases carbon storage capability or act to its detriment, resembling when non-native tree species capture carbon but destroy native forests.

Environmental crisis threatens human health

Each the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis harm human health. Environmental degradation is disrupting economic and social systems and deepening poverty all over the world. Even when global warming could be limited to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, the impacts could still be cataclysmic.

Shortages of water, food, land, and shelter are increasing conflict and migration. Public health has also been affected by the spread of disease vectors, increased air pollution, unprecedented global temperatures, and extreme weather events.

The prevalence of water-borne diseases is rising as pollution damages water quality and renders many water sources unsafe to make use of. Environmental pollution and wildlife declines also threaten food security, as many communities rely on wild species of plants and fish for his or her nutrition.

Because the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic demonstrated, increasing human population pressure, urbanization, and shrinking habitats for wild animals have increased the probability of pathogen spillovers, latest diseases, and pandemics. Concurrently, the burden of allergic, metabolic, neuropsychiatric, autoimmune, noncommunicable, and inflammatory diseases can also be rising.

Meanwhile, because the earth’s biodiversity is depleted, the likelihood of discovering potentially lifesaving medicines that could possibly be developed from undiscovered species also declines.

These impacts usually are not experienced equally. Relatively, probably the most vulnerable communities often experience the brunt of the implications of climate change and biodiversity loss, while probably the most privileged are protected. While inequality has fuelled the environmental crisis, climate change also deepens existing social, economic, and health inequities.

Twin challenges should be addressed through joint efforts

Despite the interlinked nature of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, global initiatives to alleviate these issues have been largely separate. Actually, the research communities attending the Conferences of the Parties (COP) on climate change are distinct from those contributing to the COP on biodiversity. Nonetheless, there’s increasing recognition that only by coming together can these immense problems be addressed.

“Without nature, we’ve got nothing.”

The 28th COP on climate change can be held in Dubai in 2024, while the 16th Biodiversity COP will soon happen in Turkey. COPs have the potential to handle pressing global issues; nonetheless, many previous commitments made at these meetings haven’t been fulfilled. As guarantees remain unkept, ecosystems are pushed further towards ‘tipping points’ after which they’ll now not function.

By bringing together efforts to handle biodiversity loss and climate change, the authors hope that the processes of the COP could be harmonized and integrated. Before that, political leaders and residents of the world must recognize that the environmental crisis can also be a worldwide health emergency.

Journal reference:

  • Abbasi, K., Ali, P., Barbour, V., et al. (2024). Time to treat the climate and nature crisis as one indivisible global health emergency. BMC Public Health. doi:10.1186/s12889-023-17225-y
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