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Almost everyone agrees that human production of greenhouse gases is driving global warming—more quickly than anticipated.1 The latest summary of the scientific evidence by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that by 2030 the earth will warm by 2.0°C—the tipping point at which warming may lead to more warming.2 Temperatures may rise by 6.4°C this century.
In Bali, world leaders will try to agree how to limit this rise. It is imperative that they do. The IPCC predicts increased death and injury due to heatwaves, floods, storms, fires, and droughts. Cardiorespiratory disease will increase because of higher ozone concentrations. Freshwater and saltwater flooding will increase the spread of diarrhoea.3 By 2100, the number of people exposed to malaria prone temperatures may increase by a third. Water availability will suffer. Subsistence agriculture will fail through changes to the climate and ecosystem collapse. Hunger, migration, and war may also be driven by economic collapse similar in scale to that associated with world wars.4
As doctors we urge the leaders to consider the health implications of climate change and act now to prevent it. The most vulnerable people will be affected first—poor mothers and children living in developing countries. Around 175 million children are predicted to be afflicted each year over the next decade by disasters caused by climate change; by 2010, 50 million people may be displaced, mostly women and children.5
We consider this to be the greatest public health disaster facing us today and one that requires action at local, national, and international level. We call on all health professionals to urge their colleagues, employers, and institutions to reduce their carbon footprint and to set an example in their personal lives. We intend to make our colleges carbon neutral as soon as possible. Above all, we call on the world's leaders to take radical action to reduce CO2 emissions as a matter of extreme urgency. Only by firm and decisive action now, can we, as a global community, hope to avert or mitigate an impending public health catastrophe of immense proportions.
Competing interests: None declared.