Drawing on a growing body of research confirming the numerous and inseparable links between climate and health, the World Health Organization (WHO) COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health says transformational action across all sectors, from energy, transportation and nature to food systems and finance, is needed to protect people.
“The COVID-19[female[feminine The pandemic has shed light on the intimate and delicate bonds between humans, animals and our environment”Said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people.”
An urgent call
The WHO report was launched at the same time as a open letter, signed by more than two-thirds of the global health workforce – 300 organizations representing at least 45 million physicians and health professionals worldwide – calling on national leaders and country delegations to COP26 to step up climate action .
“Everywhere we provide care, in our hospitals, clinics and communities around the world, we are already responding to the health damage caused by climate change“, We read in the letter of health professionals.
“We call on the leaders of each country and their representatives at COP26 to avoid the impending health catastrophe by limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C, and to place human health and equity at the heart of all actions of mitigation and adaptation to climate change “.
Fossil fuels are “killing us”
The report and open letter come as unprecedented extreme weather events and other climate impacts take a growing toll on everyone.
According to the WHO, heatwaves, storms and floods have claimed thousands of lives and disrupted millions more while threatening healthcare systems and facilities when they are needed most.
Weather and climate change threatens food security and increases food, water and vector borne diseases, such as malaria, while climate impacts also negatively affect mental health.
“Burning fossil fuels is killing us. Climate change is the greatest health threat facing humanity, ”says the WHO report. And while no one is immune to the health impacts of climate change, “they are felt disproportionately by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.”
10 priorities to save the world
Commit to a healthy, green and fair recovery from COVID-19.
Make COP26 the “Health COP”, by placing health and social justice at the heart of the discussions.
Prioritize climate interventions with the greatest health, social and economic gains.
Build resilient health systems to climate change and support adaptation to health in all sectors.
Transition to renewable energies, to save lives from air pollution.
Promote sustainable and healthy urban design and transport systems.
Protect and restore nature and ecosystems.
Promote food supply chains and sustainable diets for climate and health.
Transition to a welfare economy.
Mobilize and support the health community on climate action.
Climate actions far outweigh the costs
Meanwhile, air pollution, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels, which is also causing climate change, is causing 13 deaths per minute globally, according to the WHO.
The report makes it clear that the public health benefits of implementing ambitious climate actions far outweigh the costs.
“It has never been clearer that the climate crisis is one of the most pressing health emergencies we all face,” said Maria Neira, director of environment, climate change and health at the ‘WHO.
“Reducing air pollution… would reduce the total number of deaths from air pollution worldwide by 80% while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change”, a- she stressed.
Dr Neira added that a shift to more nutritious, plant-based diets “could significantly reduce global emissions, ensure more resilient food systems and prevent up to 5.1 million food-related deaths per year by 2050 ”.
Call to action
Although reaching the Paris Agreement on climate change would improve air quality, diet and physical activity – saving millions of lives a year – most climate decision-making processes currently ignore these co-benefits for health and their economic evaluation.
Tedros underscored WHO’s call to all countries to “commit to taking decisive action at COP26 to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C – not just because it’s the right thing to do.” do, but because it is in our own interests ”, and highlighted 10 priorities in the report to protect“ the health of the people and the planet that sustains us ”.
© UNICEF / Habibul Haque