Health must be the axis and the center of the negotiations on climate change at COP27

On the eve of crucial climate talks at COP27, the World Health Organization issues a grim reminder that the climate crisis continues to cause disease and endanger people’s lives and that health must be at the core of these momentous negotiations.

The WHO believes that the conference must conclude with progress on the four key goals of mitigation, adaptation, financing and collaboration to address the climate crisis.

COP27 will be a crucial opportunity for the world to come together and recommit to keeping the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement alive.

We welcome journalists and COP27 participants to join WHO for a series of high-level events and spend time in an innovative space in the Health Pavilion. Our main goal will be to put the health threat of the climate crisis and the huge health benefits that would accrue 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 if urgent action is not taken.

“Climate change is making millions of people sick or more vulnerable to disease around the world, and the increasing destructiveness of extreme weather events disproportionately affects poor and marginalized communities,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General. “It is crucial that leaders and decision-makers come together at COP27 to put health at the center 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 land use changes, and rapid urban development. The increasing invasion of animal habitats is increasing the opportunities for viruses harmful to humans to transition from their animal host. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause an additional 250,000 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 and water and sanitation) are estimated to be between US$2 billion and US$4 billion per year by 2030.

The global temperature rise that has already occurred is causing extreme weather events that bring with them 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, especially if governments take action now to meet the commitments made in Glasgow in November 2021 and go further in resolving the climate crisis.

WHO calls on governments to lead a just, equitable and rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and the transition to a clean energy future. There has also been encouraging progress on decarbonization commitments, with the WHO calling for the creation of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty that would allow for the phase-out of coal and other atmosphere-damaging fossil fuels in a fair and equitable way. This would represent one of the most significant contributions to climate change mitigation.

Improving human health is something that all citizens can contribute to, whether through promoting more urban green spaces, facilitating climate mitigation and adaptation while decreasing exposure to air pollution , or the promotion of local traffic restrictions and the improvement of local transport systems. Community engagement and engagement on climate change is essential to building resilience and strengthening food and health systems, and this is especially important for vulnerable communities and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are the most affected by extreme weather events.

Thirty-one million people in the Horn of Africa region are suffering from acute hunger and 11 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition at a time when the region is facing one of the worst droughts in decades. Climate change is already having an impact on food security, and if current trends continue, this will only get worse. The floods in Pakistan are a result of climate change and have devastated vast swaths of the country. The impact will be felt for years. More than 33 million people have been affected, and almost 1,500 health centers have been damaged.

However, even communities and regions less familiar with extreme weather need to build their resilience, something we have seen with the recent floods and heatwaves in central Europe. WHO encourages everyone to work with their local leaders on these issues and to take action in their communities.

Climate policy must now put health at the center and promote climate change mitigation policies that simultaneously deliver health benefits. A health-focused climate policy would help achieve a planet with cleaner air, safer and more abundant food and drinking water, more effective and fairer health and social protection systems and, consequently, healthier people.

Investing in clean energy will produce health benefits that will more than double the investment made. There are proven interventions capable of reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, for example, the application of stricter regulations for vehicle emissions, which according to calculations can save approximately 2.4 million lives per year thanks to improving air quality and reducing global warming by about 0.5°C by 2050. The cost of renewable energy sources has fallen considerably in recent years, with solar energy now cheaper than coal or gas in most major economies.

Note to editors: WHO is the lead agency for 32 Sustainable Development Goal indicators, of which 17 are affected by climate change or its causes and 16 specifically affect children’s health.

The COP27 Health Pavilion will bring together the global health community and its partners to ensure that health and equity are placed at the heart of the climate negotiations. It will offer a two-week program of events showcasing evidence, initiatives and solutions to maximize the health benefits of combating climate change across regions, sectors and communities.

The centerpiece of the Health Pavilion will be an art installation in the form of human lungs.

Source: World Health Organization