Health must be at the center of the COP27 climate change negotiations
On the eve of the crucial climate talks at COP27, the WHO is issuing a grim reminder that the climate crisis continues to make people sick and put lives at risk and that health must be at the heart of these crucial negotiations.
The WHO believes that the conference must conclude with progress on the four key objectives of mitigation, adaptation, financing and working together to tackle the climate crisis.
COP27 will be a crucial opportunity for the world to come together and commit to maintaining the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C.
We invite journalists and COP27 attendees to join WHO at a series of high-level events and spend time in an innovative health pavilion. Our aim will be to put the health threat of the climate crisis and the huge health gains that would come from stronger climate action at the center of discussions. Climate change is already affecting people’s health and will continue to do so at an accelerating rate unless urgent action is taken.
“Climate change is making millions of people sick or more vulnerable to disease around the world and the increasing destruction from extreme weather events disproportionately affects poor and marginalized communities,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO. “It is crucial that leaders and decision-makers come together at COP27 to put health at the heart of the negotiations.”
Our health depends on the health of the ecosystems around us, and these ecosystems are now threatened by deforestation, agriculture and other changes in land use, and rapid urban development. Increasingly deep encroachment into animal habitats increases the opportunities for viruses harmful to humans to make the transition from their animal host. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to lead to around 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.
Direct health damage costs (i.e., excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture, water and sanitation), are estimated at between 2 and $4 billion per year by 2030.
The global temperature increase that has already occurred is driving extreme weather events that bring intense heat waves and droughts, devastating floods, and increasingly powerful hurricanes and tropical storms. The combination of these factors means that the impact on human health is increasing and is likely to accelerate.
But there is room for hope, particularly if governments act now to honor the pledges made in Glasgow in November 2021 and go further in solving the climate crisis.
WHO calls on governments to lead a just, equitable and rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and a transition to a clean energy future. Encouraging progress has also been made on decarbonization commitments and the WHO is calling for the creation of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty that would see coal and other atmosphere-damaging fossil fuels phased out just and fair. This would represent one of the most important contributions to mitigating climate change.
Improving human health is something all citizens can contribute to, whether by promoting more urban green spaces, which facilitate climate change mitigation and adaptation while reducing exposure to air pollution, or campaigning for local traffic restrictions and improved local transport systems. . Community engagement and participation on climate change is key to building resilience and strengthening food and health systems, and this is particularly important for vulnerable communities and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are hardest hit by extreme weather events.
Thirty-one million people in the Greater Horn of Africa face acute hunger and 11 million children face acute malnutrition as the region faces one of the worst droughts in decades. Climate change is already having an impact on food security and if current trends persist, it will only get worse. The floods in Pakistan are the result of climate change and have devastated large swaths of the country. The impact will be felt for years. More than 33 million people were affected and nearly 1,500 health centers damaged.
But even communities and regions less familiar with extreme weather events need to increase their resilience, as we have seen recently with floods and heat waves in central Europe. WHO encourages everyone to work with their local leaders on these issues and to take action within their community.
Climate policy must now place health at the center and promote climate change mitigation policies that simultaneously deliver health benefits. A health-focused climate policy would help create a planet with cleaner air, more abundant and safe fresh water and food, more efficient and equitable health and social protection systems, and, consequently, people in better health.
Investing in clean energy will produce health gains that pay for those investments twice. There are proven interventions that can reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, for example by applying higher standards for vehicle emissions, which have been calculated to save around 2.4 million lives per year, thanks improving air quality and reducing global warming by around 0.5°C. by 2050. The cost of renewable energy sources has fallen significantly in recent years and solar power is now cheaper than coal or gas in most major economies.
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Note to Editors
WHO is the repository of 32 Sustainable Development Goal indicators, 17 of which are affected by climate change or its drivers, and 16 of which have a specific impact on children’s health.
The COP27 Health Pavilion will bring together the global health community and partners to ensure that health and equity are placed at the center of climate negotiations. It will offer a 2-week program of events showcasing evidence, initiatives and solutions to maximize the health benefits of tackling climate change across regions, sectors and communities.
The centerpiece of the Health Pavilion will be an art installation in the shape of human lungs.