More than 200 health journals call for immediate action on climate change, calling it the 'greatest threat to public health'

More than 200 health journals across the world have simultaneously published an editorial calling for greater government action on climate change. 

The editorial is published in journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia, The Lancet and The BMJ. It is calling for urgent action to keep "average global temperature increases below 1.5°C" to halt "destruction of nature, and protect health".

"The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse," the authors wrote.

"Despite the world's necessary preoccupation with COVID-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.

"We are united in recognising that only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory."

The authors of the editorial wrote "the greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature".

"Urgent, society-wide changes must be made and will lead to a fairer and healthier world."

Editor-in-chief of the Medical Journal of Australia Laureate Professor Nick Talley says doctors have a responsibility to provide guidance and leadership about climate change.

"Doctors are people who are highly respected, and we also contribute to global warming directly in the health system," Talley, who is a co-author of the editorial, says. 

"We can do something about that directly as a group. Every individual doctor who takes action, every hospital that takes action, every health system that takes action, potentially can improve things and also demonstrate to others that this is critically important.

"And the opposite also applies. If doctors take no action or deliberately don't do anything, others may say 'Well, the doctors don't think it's important, why should we think it's important'. The idea that 'We just treat the patient in front of us' is not appropriate."

Talley said wealthy nations, such as Australia, have a responsibility to lead climate change action. 

"We have a major responsibility. Our lack of sufficient action has been an encouragement to those who've also not wished to take sufficient action or reaction.

"If every country doesn't talk together soon, there will be some countries that will disappear, and worse, there will be a lot of people who will die. It's very clear."

Talley said there is concern the urgency of climate change is not getting through to people and Governments. 

"The urgency of the situation is remarkable, yet the penetration of that urgency remains not where it needs to be. It's very clear, we have a very, very serious problem.

"The best advice I've had on this is we will not be able to turn this around in time. Most likely we will overshoot the temperatures that we've been worried about, and then we might be able to pull it back. But I worry about the 'might'.

"I've also heard the argument that we should wait for technology to catch up, and it could potentially solve the problems for us. That's possible but we cannot guarantee that at all.

He said it was "irresponsible" not to pull all the stops to minimise the "very severe health and general consequences of climate change". 

It comes after a sobering report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change painted a horrifying picture of what humanity is doing to the climate. 

The report, which brought together years of research from climate scientists from around the world, said 50-year heatwaves could become almost annual events and a sea-level rise of 15m in the next couple of hundred years is not out of the realm of possibility.