The World Health Organization (WHO) says doctors have a role to play in the climate change debate.

Increased climate variability from carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions poses serious threats to human health, with more frequent and severe extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and fires and threats to food production predicted.

“It’s imperative that health professionals worldwide show strong leadership in tackling climate change,” argue leading WHO experts in a new article for the BMJ.

They say carbon dioxide and the four short lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) - methane, black carbon, ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons - are the main contributors to climate change.

But those four SLCPs are considered “super pollutants”, with each molecule capable of increasing climate imbalance by about 2,000 times more than a molecule of CO2.

SLCPs, especially black carbon particles, can also pollute public health.

Fine particulate air pollution from solid biomass fuels (which emit a large amount of black carbon particles) and burning fossil fuels contribute to around 7 million deaths per year, mostly from heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from both household and outdoor exposure.

Drastic reductions in carbon dioxide and SLCPs are needed to “bend the emission curve downwards” and “stabilise climate change within one generation”, and “make the global economy carbon neutral this century”, the WHO authors argue.

They say reducing SLCPs will cut pollution and could prevent around 2.4 million premature deaths annually by 2050.

“Health professionals have key roles in fighting climate change caused by both short lived climate pollutants and carbon dioxide,” they argue.

“They need to show how destruction of ecosystems, declines in crop yields, and ocean acidification could reverse recent advances in global health, especially on populations of low income countries.”

“Furthermore, health professionals should emphasise the health benefits of a decarbonised economy, and engage fully with industry leaders to achieve this goal.”