Over the past 20 years the view that human activity is disturbing the normal cycles of climate change has become widely supported by scientists. Fossil fuel burning has amplified changes in greenhouse gasses so that whereas levels of Carbon Dioxide have been below 300 parts per million over the past million years, they are now 380 ppm and rising rapidly. We doctors have explored and documented the likely health consequences of these changes. These are both direct, as in the extension of vector borne diseases associated with warming climates, and indirect, through for example crop failure due to changing weather patterns.
The potential for a devastating impact on the health of all peoples is now clear, and if that was the end of the story, we would have reason to be despairing. Fortunately, there is another narrative, a narrative which gives us reason for optimism and a basis for effective action. Tackling climate change by radically reducing global fossil fuel use, but doing this in a way which enables poor countries to have headroom for development, will be of major benefit to health. This health promoting framework for tackling climate change is called Contraction and Convergence - reducing the global carbon emissions, and dividing the residual carbon into equal entitlements for all adults.
The consequence for health in our own country will be a phased increase in exercise, improving air quality, the greening of public spaces, and an improving diet with a decrease in meat consumption. When we consider that the majority of chronic disease is due to lack of exercise, inappropriate diets and poor air quality, this essential measure to tackle climate change transforms into an essential measure for tackling chronic disease. More widely the equal entitlement of carbon means that whilst we in the rich countries have to radically reduce our use of fossil fuels, those in poor countries have opportunities to sell some of their entitlement to us, and to use the rest to transform their societies.
So ‘Whats good for climate change is good for health.” Through tackling climate change in this fair shares way we deliver benefits to our individual patients and to many others around the globe.
The Climate and Health Council, which I co-chair, and of which Tim Ballard is a member, asks you to join us in ensuring that this transformative view of climate change is taken seriously in all negotiations. Go to our website, which suggests a range of actions you can take. In particular we ask you to sign our pledge. www.climateandhealth/pledge
6000 health professionals from many countries have already signed, and by adding your name we will get increasing evidence of our commitment to tackle climate change. We can use this evidence to give our negotiators the courage and space to make the appropriate decisions both nationally and internationally.
Co-chair, Climate and Health Council