Doctors and medical professionals from around the globe have called on world leaders in the Group of 20 (G20) to “recover better” from the economic decline caused by the COVID-19 crisis by investing in a low-carbon and resilient economy that would bring substantial health as well as environmental benefits.
This call adds to the growing momentum around the world to seize the opportunity presented by the current coronavirus pandemic crisis to rebuild economies in a cleaner and greener way.
While greenhouse gas emissions are set to fall this year in the wake of the crisis, any positive impact on the climate could be short-lived and quickly outweighed by increased emissions if the economic recovery resumes on a high-carbon path.
The joint letter by over 350 organisations representing more than 40 million health professionals, approximately half of the global medical workforce, stated: “Health professionals stand united in support of a pragmatic, science-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In that same spirit, we also stand united in support of a healthy recovery from this crisis.”
In the letter, the health professionals link air pollution and fragile public health systems with the impacts of the virus, saying air pollution “was already weakening our bodies,” thereby exacerbating the impact of the disease.
The letter also addresses the threats posed by unabated climate change and deforestation, which can potentially unleash new health threats upon vulnerable populations.
“Recover better” was also the core message at last month’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue, a virtual meeting of more than 30 governments on the climate crisis.
Speaking at the dialogue, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, said: “Where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth.
“It must not be bailing out outdated, polluting, carbon-intensive industries.
“We have witnessed first-hand how fragile communities can be when their health, food security and freedom to work are interrupted by a common threat.
“The layers of this ongoing tragedy are many and magnified by inequality and under-investment in public health systems.
“We have witnessed death, disease and mental distress at levels not seen for decades,” they wrote.
To ensure a “healthy recovery,” the letter urges that chief medical officers and chief scientific advisors must be directly involved in putting together all economic stimulus packages now under way to ensure that they include considerations of public health and environmental concerns and to give their stamp of approval.
“The enormous investments your governments will make over the coming months in key sectors like health care, transport, energy and agriculture must have health protection and promotion embedded at their core,” the letter said.
The signatories also want governments to redirect fossil fuel subsidies towards renewable energy, which they say would cut greenhouse gas emissions, lead to cleaner air, and help spur economic growth of nearly US$100 trillion by 2050.
The signatories include the World Medical Association, the International Council of Nurses, the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation, the World Organisation of Family Doctors and the World Federation of Public Health Associations, as well as thousands of individual health professionals.