Right now we have the most dramatic challenges the world is facing, these are climate crisis, nuclear war, depletion of resources and inequalities, according to the famous author Jared Diamond. His books are fascinating in telling what we should learn (or have not learnt) from history, and human development. While still in a pandemic, the world has now to face another big challenge, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since the cold war ended, the use of weapons of mass destruction has been a far-fetched thought but is now a reality presented by Vladimir Putin.
While the media is reporting massively about Putin’s war on Ukraine, the prevailing climate crisis, biodiversity loss and pollution have been covered in a mist. A wishful thought dispelling the mists – perhaps – is the recent UN high-level conference Stockholm+50, co-hosted by Sweden and Kenya.
The first UN meeting on human environment took place in Stockholm in 1972 to highlight the importance to work for a good and healthy environment. And UNEP was created.
Are we then proud of ourselves 50 years later?
I don’t know, but there is for sure still a lot of disruptive work to be done. The challenges have health consequences involving both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Mental health among the young and adolescents is one area that is getting more and more attention for obvious reasons. Climate anxiety, mental illness in conflicts, mental health consequences of the pandemic, particularly where there has been school closures, and displacement of people due to extreme weather events, civil wars and international conflicts is adding the risk of mental health issues.
As the WHO highlighted at the Stockholm +50 meeting “The impact of climate change is compounding the already extremely challenging situation for mental health and mental health services globally.”
A warning flag was also raised by a study in The Lancet Planetary Health where a large majority of 16- to 25-year-olds experienced climate anxiety to such an extent that it affected their daily functions.
Another red flag in that study was that these young people, in all 10 countries examined, felt betrayed by their governments not doing enough to tackle the climate crisis. That is a salient sign of distrust, not only for lack of climate-actions but distrust can be spread to other areas of the society as well. We need to include adolescents and students more when taking decisions that obviously affect their future.
Jared Diamond is right in his ideas about global threats, all huge global challenges are connected to a strong need regaining trust and hope for todays’ and future generations. The global health community must step-up the work implementing the 2030 Agenda, being more disruptive, innovative – but also humble for the hard work ahead, safeguarding sustainable and healthy societies. And never to hesitate in holding governments and politicians accountable.
Peter Friberg, SIGHT Director