G20 urged to make ‘green recovery’ from coronavirus pandemic by global health community

Louise Boyle
The family photo at the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019 (Photo by KIM KYUNG-HOON / POOL / AFP): AFP/Getty Images

Public health organisations representing more than 40 million doctors, nurses and other medical workers from around the world have called on G20 leaders to ensure that coronavirus recovery plans tackle pollution and climate change.

In an open letter on Tuesday, more than 350 organisations in 90 different countries demanded green, healthy recovery measures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused more than 344,000 deaths worldwide and decimated the global economy.

“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 underinvestment in public health systems. We have witnessed death, disease and mental distress at levels not seen for decades,” they wrote.

The letter, signed by groups representing more than half of the world’s medical workforce, was addressed to G20 leaders including US president Donald Trump, British prime minister Boris Johnson, China’s president Xi Jinping, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. While some have tackled the coronavirus crisis with stringent measures, others have been criticised for faltering approaches, and have used the pandemic to chip away at environmental protections. The next G20 summit is scheduled for November in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh.

So far, around $7tn has been injected into economic relief packages for the Covid-19 pandemic, and trillions more are expected to be spent in the months to come. A survey conducted by Oxford University earlier this month found that many of the world’s top financial minds agree that the best recovery solutions are ones that also aim to reduce carbon emissions.

The medical community’s letter called for a science-based approach to recovery packages that prioritise clean air and water, tackle the myriad issues linked to the climate crisis, and deforestation, in order to mitigate “new health threats upon vulnerable populations”.

They point to air pollution, from traffic, coal-fired power plants and agriculture practices, which leads to 7 million premature deaths each year due to increased risks of pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart disease and strokes.

A study last week found that global daily carbon dioxide emissions fell by as much as 17 per cent as a result of lockdowns but that if we ramp back up to normal industrial activity, the fall would only be about 4% for 2020, doing little to diminish the climate crisis.

The letter urges governments to address inequalities in healthcare and ensure ”nobody is pushed into poverty because of healthcare costs” while facilitating well-paying jobs that don’t lead to environmental harm.

The medical community says that healthier societies come with financial rewards. Reforming fossil fuel subsidies and shifting to clean renewable energy would lead to cleaner air and emissions reductions, and “spur global GDP gains of almost 100 trillion US dollars between now and 2050”.

The letter asked that the G20’s chief medical officer and chief scientific advisor be directly involved in the creation of economic stimulus packages, in order to analyse the public health repercussions. Any plans should have the top scientists’ stamp of approval, the health professionals requested.

Among the letter’s signatories are the ​World Medical Association, International Council of Nurses, the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), the British Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, along with hundreds of organisations in both G20 and non-G20 nations.

Annette Kennedy, president of the International Council of Nurses, said in a statement: “We are calling on governments to make sure that pollution levels do not return to previous levels, so that our children and grandchildren will be able to grow up healthily in a liveable and sustainable climate.”

Read more

US blocking mention of climate change in G20 statement, diplomats say

Drivers ‘plan to walk more to maintain cleaner air after lockdown’

Sir David Attenborough calls for renewed focus on climate change

Health leaders back public inquiry into handling of pandemic

Trump says he won’t close US if there’s second coronavirus wave