Director’s Corner October 2019

Peter Friberg.
Peter Friberg, Director SIGHT

Dear friends,

Human activities, primarily burning of fossil fuels, have caused an increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to levels probably higher than any time during the last 600 000 years as we know.

It is easy to get overwhelmed by facts and reports showing threats and warnings about both the health of our planet and our own human health. When UN held the climate summit recently in New York with ever more alerting facts, the feeling of urgency was reinforced by Greta Thunberg’s devoted speech to decision makers and politicians. She was clearly frustrated when giving them some very clear advices.

Altogether, this paints a quite bleak picture of the future, and yes, we do have some huge challenges ahead. However big and difficult they may be, we still need to be positive, constructive and honest; we cannot inflict on our children that the world is doomed. We have to rely on scientific evidence and show confidence in respected scientists who are doing their best to present facts we can trust. As Greta Thunberg says over and over again; “listen to science”. Now, it is about time for us, the adult population to take action to combat climate crisis. COP 25 in Chile in early December simply has to deliver!

Strong global action by governments and multilateral organisations is needed to tackle CO2 emissions; by local adaptation in response to prevailing hazardous environmental effects.

The fact that 193 countries did adopt the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, gives all of us a fantastic platform in our daily work, research and education. Strategies can be discussed, and acted upon, identifying synergies and trade-offs across the Goals. Because, we cannot stick to a single Goal; not even on climate. Instead we need to interlink several Goals and targets. For instance: we can achieve reduced air pollution by using electric vehicles, which is good for urban people. However, the environmental cost for hunting lithium for the batteries is increasing. Added to that, the mining and search for more resources puts areas and people at risk, not seldom rural. The ever boosted and tremendous demand for energy on a global level produced mainly by fossil fuels is something that must change. But how? The vast expansion of Internet use and streaming services put dramatic pressure on delivering energy. For example, streaming one single music hit by a few billion people, uses energy that equals the annual energy consumption for Tchad, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and the Republic of Central Africa – together.

This is why SIGHT is working with health and climate using an interdisciplinary and intersectoral approach in the light of the 2030 Agenda. Associate professor Maria Nilsson, interviewed in this Newsletter, is an internationally established researcher leading our work on climate and health. Please take a moment to read what Dr Nilsson has to say.

It is pivotal for our planet that scientists and decision makers from various fields meet and figure out solutions on how to make real change – not forgetting to involve the next generation.

Young Greta Thunberg has stirred up the world, which is an amazing effort in itself. Now it is time for adults to take responsibility. There are no longer any excuses for inaction or for blaming ignorance. We can measure and we see the impacts of climate change on public health already. And we do realize that the climate change could result in health emergency – especially for the already most vulnerable in our societies. It is time to be ambitious. The strategy according to a Thai expression: “the triangle that moves the mountain” is much needed, combining relevant knowledge, social movement and political involvement.