In an open letter to G20 leaders, world health experts urge a ‘green’ recovery from the coronavirus pandemic that considers air pollution and climate breakdown. The 20 nations of the G20 account for 90 per cent of global GDP.
The written plea to deliver health-based and climate-focused economic recoveries from the coronavirus pandemic was signed by more than 200 organisations representing at least 40 million health workers – more than half of the global healthcare workforce – and backed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Climate and Health Alliance, and the World Federation of Public Health Associations.
“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 authors wrote in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now infected more than five million people worldwide.
They also highlighted that “before Covid-19, air pollution was already weakening our bodies” and is exacerbating the impact of the coronavirus. Indeed, air pollution contributes to more than seven million deaths worldwide each year.
In Europe, the effects of air pollution on health are higher than the global average. A study published last year showed that environmental pollutants have a large impact on the health of European children, resulting in the loss of precious life years. Moreover, studies upon studies show that, unsurprisingly, outdoor air pollution increases the risk of lung disease and other physical and mental health problems.
Aside from the negative effects of air pollution and the climate crisis, further environmental degradation could drive the emergence of future diseases. Indeed, human encroachment into nature is increasing the risk of new infectious diseases like Covid-19, according to a major new study published last month.
“A truly healthy economy will not allow pollution to continue to cloud the air we breathe and the water we drink. It will not allow unabated climate change and deforestation, potentially unleashing new health threats upon vulnerable populations”, the authors continued.
The letter echoes the WHO manifesto for a healthy and green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which prescribes:
- Protecting and preserving nature as the source of human health
- Investing in essential services, including clean energy, as well as water, sanitation, and healthcare facilities.
- A quick transition to cleaner energy sources
- Promoting healthy and sustainable food systems.
- Building healthy and livable cities
- Preventing the use of taxpayer money to fund pollution
An unprecedented opportunity
The authors of the plea believe that the economy can bounce back “stronger, healthier and more resilient”. But world leaders must “learn from mistakes” of the 2008/2009 financial crisis that locked fossil fuels into the economy.
Daily global carbon emissions in April were 17 per cent lower compared to the same month last year, according to a recent study published in Nature – largely due forced lockdowns to combat the coronavirus pandemic – and are projected to fall by a record 2.5 billion tonnes this year.
A green COVID-19 recovery would allow for the continued reduction in emissions alongside economic growth, including policies that build resilience against future climate shocks and risks by supporting the targets set out in the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels.
Greener approaches would help phase-out dirty fossil fuels that are driving climate change and causing air pollution, which could improve air quality and as a result, public health. Therefore, the trillions in funding that will be shovelled into post-pandemic economies should be invested in public health, clean air, clean water, and a stable climate to boost resilience against future health crises.