The World Health Organization (WHO) and nearly 200 other health associations have issued an unprecedented call for a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.
A call to action released Wednesday urges governments to agree on a legally binding plan to phase out fossil fuel exploration and production, similar to the Framework Tobacco Convention, which was negotiated under the auspices of WHO in 2003.
“Modern addiction to fossil fuels is not just an act of environmental vandalism. From a health perspective, this is an act of self-sabotage,” WHO President Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, head of the WHO’s climate change department, said the letter was a watershed moment. “This is the first time the health sector has come together to issue such a statement explicitly on fossil fuels,” he told the Guardian. “The current burden of death and disease from air pollution is comparable to that of tobacco use, while the long-term effects of fossil fuels on the Earth’s climate pose an existential threat to humanity – just like nuclear weapons.”
The campaign to end fossil fuel exploration and production has received broad support from the Dalai Lama and 100 other Nobel laureates, the Vatican, several cities and island states, more than 1,000 professionals health and nearly 3,000 scientists and academics.
The initiative aims to emulate the successes of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed in 1968, which to some extent limited the spread of atomic weapons and technology.
More countries have signed this treaty than any other arms control convention, although nuclear powers such as India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan have not.
Ira Helfand, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Co-Chair of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said: “The two overarching issues of our time – the climate crisis and the danger of nuclear war – are deeply intertwined. The climate crisis leads to worsening international conflicts and a growing risk of nuclear war, and nuclear war will cause brutal and catastrophic climate disruption. The world must unite to prevent these two existential threats.
In emailed comments supporting the new initiative, laureate professor Noam Chomsky said: “Humans are walking towards a precipice. When we reach it, an unthinkable catastrophe is inevitable. There is a narrow window of opportunity to save ourselves and the countless other species we are destroying with reckless abandon. There is still time to get rid of fossil fuels, not much. We will seize the opportunity, or the human experiment will come to an inglorious end.
In addition to posing an existential threat to future generations, fossil fuels pose a danger in the present, claiming more than 8 million premature deaths in 2018, or 18% of the total number of deaths that year, according to a study. .
Most of these deaths were caused by air pollution, but the climate crisis is also increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses and creating ideal conditions for the transmission of food- and water-borne diseases and the spread of vector-borne diseases.
Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and fires carry their own health risks, while fossil fuel workers and communities near power plants face a plethora of risks ranging from oil spills and explosions. pipelines to lung diseases and cancers.
The new initiative says the clean energy transition must respect the rights of indigenous peoples and be fair to “every worker, community and country.”
Ruth Etzel, co-chair of the International Pediatric Association’s environmental health group, said: ‘We have an ethical duty of care and we cannot remain silent about the global health risks posed by fossil fuels. Our message to government leaders around the world is: the health of all living today and future generations depends on phasing out fossil fuels, quickly, justly and completely. »