Knowledge entails commitment
It is still possible to stabilise climate change and thereby reduce the risk of the most serious health impacts we have described. But it is a matter of urgency to take substantially stronger steps to reduce CO₂ emissions than those so far implemented . The longer we postpone making the necessary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the more serious the impacts will be on health, the environment and the economy, and the greater the future costs. The main cause of climate change is the use of fossil fuels in wealthy countries. Therefore, the main responsibility for preventing a further rise in global temperature rests with these countries.
The well known Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has shown that in order to have a realistic chance of avoiding a temperature increase of more than 2°C, more than half of the proven economically recoverable oil, gas and coal reserves must remain unused (21). Highest priority must be given to stopping production from the most highly polluting sources, such as tar sands and coal. A large proportion of fossil fuels from other sources must also remain untouched. Norway, a rich, oil-producing country with large oil reserves, is in a particularly good position to show the world that it is possible to stop production before the reservoirs are empty.
Action must be stepped up considerably to avoid a temperature increase of 3 – 4°C or more, which would result in climate changes with many serious and unpredictable consequences (22).
The knowledge we possess of the serious consequences of global warming for life and health can pave the way for a new approach in national and global climate policy. Whereas the effects of emission cuts will mainly be observed in the longer term, the health benefits will quickly be noticeable. This may increase motivation to take the necessary steps to reduce emissions.
The Norwegian Medical Association has taken an initiative to draw attention to the harmful health effects ensuing from climate change and has appointed a committee on global warming and health (23, 24). In a position document, the committee points to the need for overarching policy measures. At the same time, it stresses that the individual can make a substantial contribution through an environmentally aware and climate-friendly lifestyle.
It is important that healthcare workers, who know how dangerous climate change is for life and health, should take the lead in putting forward clear demands for stronger and more effective measures to combat climate change (25). Health policy-makers should be involved to a greater extent in the shaping of national and global climate policies. The health benefits of the mitigation efforts as well as the very serious consequences for life and health if action is taken too late, would then emerge more clearly. This may contribute to adequate priority being given to measures to combat climate change in policies at both national and international level.