Human health is dependent on a healthy environment. Yet we are damaging ecosystems and depleting natural resources in ways that undermine our ability to sustain healthy and equitable societies.
Climate change, desertification, ocean acidification and biodiversity loss are among many ecological threats to health. These impact on health via multiple pathways that include reducing food and water security, altering disease patterns, increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and multiplying the risk of conflict.
The threats posed by climate change and wider environmental degradation are serious. According to a Lancet-UCL Commission, climate change could be “sufficient to trigger a discontinuity in the long-term progression of humanity”. Indeed, on the basis of current emission trajectories, “temperature rises in the next 85 years may be incompatible with an organised global community”.
However, the challenge this represents also presents a number of opportunities to promote health, both short and long-term. These include reducing air pollution, promoting active forms of transport, healthier food systems, and working towards a fairer, more equal economy and society.
The health community has both a mandate and an interest in calling for the social, political and economic actions required to mitigate and adapt to environmental change.