In a global call to arms, the World Health Organization described climate change as the “single biggest health threat facing humanity” in a new report.
Millions of people are already feeling its effects — particularly those in low-income communities — prompting countless experts to demand that government officials and policymakers “act with urgency” in regards to the climate crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the intimate and delicate links between humans, animals and our environment,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people.”
In an open letter to heads of state worldwide, 150 organizations as well as 400 experts and health professionals voiced their support for 10 climate and health actions detailed in the WHO report, which was published on Monday. Some of the recommendations include reimagining urban environments and transit systems; encouraging “healthy, sustainable, and resilient” food supply systems; and committing to a “healthy, green, and just recovery” from COVID-19, including global access to vaccines and steps to stave off future pandemics.
The most notable concern, experts added, is the burning of fossil fuel, which contributes to climate change and subsequently, the intensifying of extreme weather — including heat waves as well as storms and flooding — and a rising sea level.
Experts added that air pollution ultimately causes about 13 deaths a minute around the world in addition to fueling climate change, resulting in the destruction of homes and businesses, as well as the exacerbation of food insecurity and world hunger.
“As health professionals and health workers, we recognize our ethical obligation to speak out about this rapidly growing crisis that could be far more catastrophic and enduring than the COVID-19 pandemic,” the open letter reads.
“Those people and nations who have benefited most from the activities that caused the climate crisis, especially fossil fuel extraction and use, have a great responsibility to do everything possible to help those who are now most at risk.”
The report comes after the WHO in September tightened air quality guidelines for the first time since 2005. It also comes just before the U.N.’s major international conference on climate change, known as COP26, which is slated to kick off in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31.