Public Release:  Act now to tackle the health and security threat of climate change, say experts

BMJ-British Medical Journal

Climate change poses an immediate, grave and escalating threat to the health and security of people around the globe and must be tackled urgently, warned leading experts at a high-level meeting hosted by the BMJ (British Medical Journal) in London today.

Opening the conference, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne urged governments around the world to limit the impact of climate change for a "cleaner, healthier, safer future for us all."

"Climate knows no frontiers," added Lord Michael Jay, Chairman of Merlin. He said, even in these difficult economic times, "we must not fail to take tough measures ... there is a real need for more commitment and more action at a national, international and industrial level."

A statement released at the meeting, signed by Lord Michael Jay (Chair of Merlin) Professor Sir Ian Gilmore (former president of the Royal College of Physicians), Professor Anthony Costello (Director of the UCL Institute for Global Health), Dr Fiona Godlee (Editor-in-Chief, British Medical Journal), Dr Richard Horton (Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet), Dr Hege Gjessing (President of the Norwegian Medical Association) and other prominent scientists, environmental health experts and public figures, warns that climate change will not only bring a global health catastrophe, but has the potential to threaten global stability and security.

It urges the EU to adopt urgently a 30% CO2 greenhouse gas reduction target by 2020 and national governments "to strive to adopt climate change mitigation targets and policies that are more ambitious than their international commitments."

Professor Hugh Montgomery, Director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance said: "It is not enough for politicians to deal with climate change as some abstract academic concept. The price of complacency will be paid in human lives and suffering, and all will be affected. Tackling climate change can avoid this, while related lifestyle changes independently produce significant health benefits. It is time we saw true leadership from those who would profess to take such a role."

The statement outlines how rising temperatures and weather instability will lead to more frequent and extreme weather events, loss of habitat and habitation, water and food shortages, spread of diseases, ecosystem collapse and threats to livelihood, potentially triggering mass migration and conflict within and between countries.

It warns that humanitarian crises "will further burden military resources" and that the human and economic cost "will be enormous." However, it also states that tackling climate change could "significantly cut rates of premature death and disability for hundreds of millions of people around the world."

All the signatories to the statement believe that tough measures on climate change are needed if we are to secure our future wellbeing. They make specific demands that include:

  • All governments to incorporate the potential consequences of climate change on security into their short and long term security planning
  • The European Union to unconditionally agree a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions domestically by 30% by 2020
  • In the absence of carbon capture and storage, all governments to stop the building of new coal-fired power stations and to phase out the continuing operation of existing plants
  • Developing countries to actively identify the key ways in which climate change threatens health and democratic governance, as well as undertaking mitigation and adaptation activities
  • A global, legally binding agreement consistent with the target of restricting the global temperature rise to 2°C as agreed in Copenhagen and Cancun, and in line with the pending review towards a 1.5°C limit above preindustrial levels
  • A mechanism to ensure that all people can share equitably the benefits of a safe atmosphere without penalising those with the least historical responsibility for climate change must be established

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