NEWS Pontifical Academy of Sciences: Declaration of Health


This dec­la­ra­tion is based on the data and con­cepts pre­sented at the workshop:

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 Some forms of pol­lu­tion are part of people’s daily expe­ri­ence. Expo­sure to atmos­pheric pol­lu­tants pro­duces a broad spec­trum of health haz­ards, espe­cially for the poor, and causes mil­lions of pre­ma­ture deaths. Peo­ple take sick, for exam­ple, from breath­ing high lev­els of smoke from fuels used in cook­ing or heat­ing. There is also pol­lu­tion that affects every­one, caused by trans­port, indus­trial fumes, sub­stances which con­tribute to the acid­i­fi­ca­tion of soil and water, fer­til­iz­ers, insec­ti­cides, fungi­cides, her­bi­cides and agro­tox­ins in gen­eral. Tech­nol­ogy, which, linked to busi­ness inter­ests, is pre­sented as the only way of solv­ing these prob­lems, in fact proves inca­pable of see­ing the mys­te­ri­ous net­work of rela­tions between things and so some­times solves one prob­lem only to cre­ate others.

O God of the poor,
Help us to res­cue the aban­doned and for­got­ten of this earth, So, pre­cious in your eyes. Bring heal­ing to our lives,
That we may pro­tect the world and not prey on it,
That we may sow beauty, not pol­lu­tion and destruction.

Pope Fran­cis, Laudato si’


State­ment of the Problem

With unchecked cli­mate change and air pol­lu­tion, the very fab­ric of life on Earth, includ­ing that of humans, is at grave risk. We pro­pose scal­able solu­tions to avoid such cat– astrophic changes. There is less than a decade to put these solu­tions in place to pre­serve our qual­ity of life for gen­era– tions to come. The time to act is now.

We human beings are cre­at­ing a new and dan­ger­ous phase of Earth’s his­tory that has been termed the Anthro– pocene. The term refers to the immense e ects of human activ­ity on all aspects of the Earth’s phys­i­cal sys­tems and on life on the planet. We are dan­ger­ously warm­ing the planet, leav­ing behind the cli­mate in which civ­i­liza­tion devel­oped. With accel­er­at­ing cli­mate change, we put our­selves at grave risk of mas­sive crop fail­ures, new and re-​​emerging infec­tious dis­eases, heat extremes, droughts, mega-​​storms, oods and sharply ris­ing sea lev­els. The eco­nomic activ­i­ties that con­tribute to global warm­ing are also wreak­ing other pro­found dam­ages, includ­ing air and water pol­lu­tion, defor­esta­tion, and mas­sive land degrada– tion, caus­ing a rate of species extinc­tion unprece­dented for the past 65 mil­lion years, and a dire threat to human health through increases in heart dis­ease, stroke, pulmo– nary dis­ease, men­tal health, infec­tions and can­cer. Cli­mate change threat­ens to exac­er­bate the cur­rent unprece­dent– ed ow of dis­place­ment of peo­ple and add to human mis– ery by stok­ing vio­lence and con ict.

The poor­est of the planet, who are still rely­ing on 19th cen­tury tech­nolo­gies to meet basic needs such as cook­ing and heat­ing, are bear­ing a heavy brunt of the dam­ages caused by the eco­nomic activ­i­ties of the rich. The rich too are bear­ing heavy costs of increased ood­ing, mega-​​storms, heat extremes, droughts and major for­est fres. Cli­mate change and air pol­lu­tion strike down the rich and poor alike.

Prin­ci­pal Findings

  • Burn­ing of fos­sil fuels and solid bio­mass release haz– ardous chem­i­cals to the air.
  • Cli­mate change caused by fos­sil fuels and other hu– man activ­i­ties poses an exis­ten­tial threat to Homo sapi­ens and con­tribute to mass extinc­tion of species. In addi­tion, air pol­lu­tion caused by the same activi– ties is a major cause of pre­ma­ture death globally.

Sup­port­ing data are sum­ma­rized in the attached back­ground sec­tion. Cli­mate change and air pol­lu­tion are closely inter­linked because emis­sions of air pol­lu­tants and climate-​​altering green­house gases and other pol­lu­tants arise largely from humanity’s use of fos­sil fuels and bio– mass fuels, with addi­tional con­tri­bu­tions from agri­cul­ture and land-​​use change. This inter­link­age mul­ti­plies the costs aris­ing from our cur­rent dan­ger­ous tra­jec­tory, yet it can also amplify the ben­e­fits of a rapid tran­si­tion to sus­tain­able energy and land use. An inte­grated plan to dras­ti­cally reduce cli­mate change and air pol­lu­tion is essential.

  • Regions that have reduced air pol­lu­tion have achieved marked improve­ments in human health as a result.

We have already emit­ted enough pol­lu­tants to warm the cli­mate to dan­ger­ous lev­els (warm­ing by 1.5°C or more). The warm­ing as well as the droughts caused by cli­mate change, com­bined with the unsus­tain­able use of aquifers and sur­face water, pose grave threats to avail­abil­ity of fresh water and food secu­rity. By mov­ing rapidly to a zero-​​car– bon energy sys­tem – replac­ing coal, oil and gas with wind, solar, geot­her­mal and other zero-​​carbon energy sources, dras­ti­cally reduc­ing emis­sions of all other cli­mate alter­ing pol­lu­tants and by adopt­ing sus­tain­able land use prac­tices, human­ity can pre­vent cat­a­strophic cli­mate change, while cut­ting the huge dis­ease bur­den caused by air pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change.

  • We advo­cate a mit­i­ga­tion approach that fac­tors in the low probability-​​high impact warm­ing pro­jec­tions such as the one in twenty chances of a 6°C warm­ing by 2100.

Pro­posed Solutions

We declare that gov­ern­ments and other stake­hold­ers should urgently under­take the scal­able and prac­ti­cal solu– tions listed below:

1. Health must be cen­tral to poli­cies that sta­bi­lize cli­mate change below dan­ger­ous lev­els, drive ze– ro-​​carbon as well as zero-​​air pol­lu­tion and pre­vent ecosys­tem disruptions.

2. All nations should imple­ment with urgency the glob– al com­mit­ments made in Agenda 2030 (includ­ing the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals) and the Paris Cli­mate Agreement.

3. Decar­bonize the energy sys­tem as early as pos­si­ble and no later than mid-​​century, shift­ing from coal, oil and gas to wind, solar, geot­her­mal and other ze– ro-​​carbon energy sources;

4. The rich not only expe­di­tiously shift to safe energy and land use prac­tices, but also pro­vide nanc­ing to the poor for the costs of adapt­ing to cli­mate change;

5. Rapidly reduce haz­ardous air pol­lu­tants, includ­ing the short-​​lived cli­mate pol­lu­tants methane, ozone, black car­bon, and hydro uorocarbons;

6. End defor­esta­tion and degra­da­tion and restore de– graded lands to pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity, reduce car­bon emis­sions and to absorb atmos­pheric car­bon into nat­ural sinks;

7. In order to accel­er­ate decar­boniza­tion there should be e ective car­bon pric­ing informed by esti­mates of the social cost of car­bon, includ­ing the health ef– fects of air pollution;

8. Pro­mote research and devel­op­ment of tech­nolo­gies to remove car­bon diox­ide directly from the atmos– phere for deploy­ment if necessary;

9. Forge col­lab­o­ra­tion between health and cli­mate sci­enc– es to cre­ate a pow­er­ful alliance for sustainability;

10. Pro­mote behav­ioral changes bene cial for human health and pro­tec­tive of the envi­ron­ment such as increased con­sump­tion of plant-​​based diets;

11. Edu­cate and empower the young to become the lead­ers of sus­tain­able development;

12. Pro­mote an alliance with soci­ety that brings togeth– er sci­en­tists, pol­icy mak­ers, health­care providers, faith/​spiritual lead­ers, com­mu­ni­ties and founda– tions to fos­ter the soci­etal trans­for­ma­tion nec­es­sary to achieve our goals in the spirit of Pope Francis’s en– cycli­cal Laudato Si’.

To imple­ment these 12 solu­tions, we call on health pro­fes­sion­als to: engage, edu­cate and advo­cate for cli– mate mit­i­ga­tion and under­take pre­ven­tive pub­lic health actions vis-​​à-​​vis air pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change; inform the pub­lic of the high health risks of air pol­lu­tion and cli– mate change. The health sec­tor should assume its obliga– tion in shap­ing a healthy future. We call for a sub­stan­tial improve­ment in energy e ciency; and elec­tri cation of the global vehi­cle eet and all other down­stream uses of fos­sil fuels. Ensure clean energy bene ts also pro­tect so– ciety’s most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties. There are numer­ous liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries includ­ing tens of cities, many uni­versi– ties, Chile, Cal­i­for­nia and Swe­den, who have embarked on a path­way to cut both air pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change. These thriv­ing mod­els have already cre­ated 8 mil­lion jobs in a low car­bon econ­omy, enhanced the well­be­ing of their cit­i­zens and shown that such mea­sures can both sustain

eco­nomic growth and deliver tan­gi­ble health bene ts for their citizens.


We espe­cially thank the global lead­ers who spoke at the work­shop: Hon­or­able Jerry Brown, Gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia, Hon­or­able Gov­er­nor Alberto Rodríguez Saá, the Gov­er­nor of San Luis, Argentina, Hon­or­able Dr. Marcelo Mena, Argen­tine Min­is­ter of Envi­ron­ment of Chile, Hon­or­able Kevin de León, Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore of Cal­i­for­nia Sen­ate, and Hon­or­able Scott Peters of the US house of representatives.

We also thank the con­tri­bu­tions of the faith lead­ers: Rev Leith Ander­son, Pres­i­dent of the National Asso­ci­a­tion for Evan­gel­i­cals, USA; Rev Alas­tair Red­fern, Bishop of Derby, UK; Rev Mitch Hes­cox, CEO of Evan­gel­i­cal Envi­ron­men­tal Net– work, USA. We thank Dr. Jeremy Far­rar, CEO of the Well­come Trust for his con­tri­bu­tions as a speaker and for thought­ful ed– its of the document.

We acknowl­edge the major con­tri­bu­tions to the draft­ing of the dec­la­ra­tion by Drs: Maria Neira (WHO), Andy Haines (Lon­don School of Hygiene and Trop­i­cal Med­i­cine) and Jos Lelieveld (Max Planck Inst of Chem­istry, Mainz). For a list of speak­ers and pan­elists at the sym­po­sium, please see the agenda of the meet­ing attached at the end of this document.

We are thank­ful to the spon­sors of the work­shop: Maria Neira of WHO; Drs Bess Mar­cus and Michael Pratt of Insti­tute of Pub­lic Health at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Diego; Drs Erminia Guarneri and Rauni King of the Mira­glo Foundation.

End of Declaration


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