A team of scientists has warned that if countries fail to reach a consensus on radical cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December, global health catastrophe will be in store.
According to Lord Michael Jay and Professor Michael Marmot, the scientific evidence that global temperatures are rising and that man is responsible has been widely accepted since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report in 2007.
There is now equally wide consensus that human beings need to act now to prevent irreversible climate change.
For example, a low carbon economy will mean less pollution. A low carbon diet (especially eating less meat) and more exercise will mean less cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
This is an opportunity too to advance health equity, which is increasingly seen as necessary for a healthy and happy society, according to the scientists.
They point out that the threat to health is especially evident in poorest countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty and lack of resources, infrastructure, and often governance, greatly increase their vulnerability to the effects of climate change.
"If we take climate change seriously, it will require major changes to the way we live, reducing the gap between carbon rich and carbon poor within and between countries," said Jay and Marmot.
They said that a successful outcome at Copenhagen is vital for our future as a species and for our civilization.
Failure to agree radical reductions in emissions spells a global health catastrophe, which is why health professionals must put their case forcefully now and after Copenhagen, they concluded.
Doctors' leaders across the world are also calling on politicians to heed the health effects of climate change when they meet in Copenhagen.
They warn that "there is a real danger that politicians will be indecisive, especially in such turbulent economic times as these."
Doctors are still seen as respected and independent, largely trusted by their patients and the societies in which they practise.
As such, doctors should demand that their politicians listen to the clear facts that have been identified in relation to climate change and act now to implement strategies that will benefit health of communities worldwide.