The effect of climate change on health should be added to the medical curriculum, write A. J. McMichael and colleagues in the British Medical Journal.
They say the health sector must also minimise greenhouse gas emissions from its own infrastructure, especially hospitals.
The authors argue that the Millennium Development Goals on health will not be met if environmental destruction continues. They emphasise the vital role of health professionals in preventing and reducing the health effects of global warming.
The poorest people will be hit hardest by climate change impacts, often in complex ways. For example, the predicted drying of Sub-Saharan Africa could increase the incidence of HIV as impoverished farming families move to cities where conditions foster sex work and unsafe sex.
Similarly, the 100 million Africans who currently live in regions prone to malaria epidemics may increase by up to 70 million by the 2080s.
In India, life expectancy will probably increase with industrialisation, contributing to the increase of coal burning, which will in turn fuel climate change and endanger health.
Health professions have a crucial role in promoting public understanding of these associations, they say.