An effective new universal climate change agreement must also be very much an effective public health agreement, and health ministers and practitioners need to speak up to make that clear as countries shape the final outcome, which will be concluded in Paris, in December.
This was the central message of a panel convened on the margins of the UN climate change negotiations in Bonn, on Tuesday 02 June 2015.
The panel delivered its message and gave an update on work by WHO in cooperation with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to create country-specific profiles for health and climate change, outlining the health risks associated with climate change and potential opportunities from action to address climate change.
Health ministers and the health sector need to “step up” to ensure health issues are taken properly into account in the climate change negotiations, said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, who leads the WHO Climate Change and Health Team. “It’s the role of WHO and others to provide information to help countries to do that.”
Country profiles will help health ministers make the right links to climate change
The country profiles are meant to assist health ministers in their interventions at home and in the context of the climate change negotiations. The WHO hopes to produce 20-30 profiles within the next few months, which would add to the more than 40 produced to date covering countries in Europe.
Climate change increases health risks from extreme weather events, and food-, water-, and vector-borne disease, among other things. Action to address climate change, for example installing clean-burning cookstoves in homes, can save lives through improved indoor air quality.
WHO chief Margaret Chan has previously made very clear that for public health, climate change is the defining issue for the 21st century.
“The climate change agreement is a public health agreement,” said Isabel Aranda, Programme Officer at the UNFCCC secretariat. WHO and the UNFCCC hope the country profiles will be a useful tool for delivering input to a strong global agreement.
Panelist Bettina Menne, the WHO’s Programme Manager for Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Green Health Services in the European Region, stressed the need to “integrate health issues in all climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, policies and strategies at all levels and in all levels,” citing the Parma Declaration of 2010 and its Commitment to Act.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions can save lives now, reduce hospital admissions, save enormous costs for healthcare and society,” said panelist Louise Newport from the UK’s Department of Health. Aside from being affected by climate change, the health sector is also a significant contributor to emissions, accounting for 30 percent of all public sector emissions in the UK, reported Dr. Newport. Arthur Mello, representing the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, called for more ambitious action to address climate change and warned that health was insufficiently represented in negotiations. He lauded WHO’s efforts to correct that and conveyed medical students’ willingness to assist in the effort.