Time to save the World: “It’s now or never”

DAUK’s Dr Matthew Lee writes

Global carbon emissions must peak by 2025 at the latest and be falling rapidly by 2030 in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, according to a report released this week by the International Panel on Climate Change. However, current policies do not come close to being adequate. (1)

The climate crisis is a healthcare crisis. Globally we are already seeing the effects of a warming atmosphere by more than 1°C: raging wildfires in Siberia, Australia, and across the Americas, fatal heatwaves in Canada and Europe, and increases in the number of storms we experience here in the UK.  

Aside from the immediate threats to health these extremes pose, as UK healthcare professionals we already see consequences of the climate crisis more than we might realise: the asthma attacks triggered by air pollution, the psychosocial hardships of having homes flooded or destroyed by storms deepening inequality, the anxiety in children who are terrified of what their world might look like with the effects of climate change.(2) It is even hypothesised that COVID-19 may have emerged in part due to climate change. (3)

First, do no harm. One of the fundamental principles of medical ethics, something that we must adhere to on a much wider scale, for the patient in front of us and for our children alongside us. The reusable coffee cup, the car-share, switching off the computer at the end of the day, individually seem insignificant actions, but together, as one of the largest employers in the world, the NHS can be a powerful instrument in the battle against climate change. But we must start now. This is the decade to prevent catastrophic damage to our home, and we are already two years in…

1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. United Nations; 2022.
2. Hickman C, Marks E, Pihkala P, Clayton S, Lewandowski R, Mayall E et al. Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health. 2021;5(12):e863-e873. doi: 10.1016/s2542-5196(21)00278-3
3. Dash S, Dipankar P, Burange P, Rouse B, Sarangi P. Climate change: how it impacts the emergence, transmission, resistance and consequences of viral infections in animals and plants. Critical Reviews in Microbiology. 2021;47(3):307-322. doi: 10.1080/1040841x.2021.1879006