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Conference, conscience and climate
  1. Hugh Montgomery
  1. Correspondence to Professor Hugh Montgomery, UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance, 4th Floor, Rockefeller Institute, 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE, UK; h.montgomery{at}

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Climate change due to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) represents a grave threat to human health and survival. But will abandoning the international conference make a difference?

Climate change and impacts on human health

The physical properties of some atmospheric gases to ‘trap heat’ was first described by John Tindall in 1863. Since then—in a little <150 years—human activity has increased the concentration of such GHGs to the highest the earth has experienced in 15 million years.1 In response, political efforts have focused on efforts to limit GHG emissions such that the earth's global mean temperature rises by no more than 2°C. However, far from reducing, GHG emissions are accelerating, their annual rate climbing by nearly 50% since 1990, and by 5.9% in 2010 alone. The International Energy Authority warns that “the door to 2°C is closing.”2 Such warming will prove catastrophic to human health and survival in our time and that of our children,3 the ‘2°C barrier’ now recognised to represent the threshold “between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change.”4

Steady rises in temperature (with altered rainfall patterns) can be harmful, and may increase exposure to allergens such as those from ragweed. Meanwhile, the occurrence of recent extreme weather events can now be confidently ascribed to climate change5 and severe storms, coastal surges, floods and droughts will become increasingly frequent and severe.6 Intense precipitation causes surface runoff and increased contamination of water with particulate and microbial materials, including sewerage.7 Extreme temperatures, such as those seen in the European and Russian heat waves of …

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  • HM is a member of the UK Climate and Health Council.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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