Forging a Healthier Future: Uniting for Climate Action at COP28

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The imminent gathering at COP28 has ignited a fervent call to action from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the global health community. Their unified voice amplifies the urgency to prioritize the intersection of climate change and health on the global stage. This concerted effort aims to ensure that the profound impact of climate change on human health takes precedence in negotiations, compelling leaders to acknowledge their responsibility in safeguarding the well-being of populations worldwide.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasizes that prioritizing health is not merely a choice but the cornerstone of resilient societies. The forthcoming conference in Dubai stands as a pivotal moment for leaders to deliver robust health outcomes, meeting the expectations of their people and urgently addressing the needs of their economies. Shifting the discourse is crucial, highlighting the substantial benefits that bold climate action can yield for global health and overall well-being.

Recent extreme weather events worldwide offer a distressing preview of a future in a rapidly warming world. The sobering reality depicted by the IPCC report, with nearly half of humanity residing in highly climate-vulnerable areas, serves as a stark reminder. WHO’s data, revealing a 70% increase in heat-related deaths among those over 65 in the past two decades, underscores the urgency for decisive action.

The intensifying frequency and severity of extreme weather phenomena ranging from droughts and floods to heatwaves, pose substantial strains on healthcare infrastructures. Events like last year’s devastating floods in Pakistan, displacing millions, exemplify the disruption on a massive scale. Projections from the World Bank paint a troubling picture, suggesting that without immediate action, climate change could displace over 200 million people by 2050.

Compounding these challenges are threats to global food systems, compromised water sources, and a surge in infectious diseases like dengue and cholera direct consequences of climate change. Collaboration and decisive action are imperative now more than ever to mitigate the health impacts of the climate crisis and forge a sustainable future.

As climate change threatens health systems globally, the imperative to strengthen them to be resilient, low carbon, and sustainable becomes paramount. Failure to act swiftly would render these systems vulnerable to the overwhelming impacts of climate change.

The health community emphasizes that climate change isn’t a distant menace; it’s an immediate threat with multidimensional health implications. It directly contributes to the proliferation of infectious diseases and vector-borne illnesses, demanding urgent attention from negotiators who can no longer afford to ignore or downplay this reality.

Adapting health systems entails enhancing critical interventions such as vector control, epidemiological surveillance, and ensuring access to safe water and sanitation. Equally crucial is the training of healthcare staff and aligning health systems with WHO’s operational framework for building climate-resilient and low carbon health systems.

To mitigate the negative health impacts, reducing and ultimately halting emissions becomes paramount. Shockingly, WHO attributes 7 million premature deaths annually to air pollution. Immediate mitigation measures, including transitioning to clean energy sources, are imperative to safeguard human health and create sustainable outcomes.

Acknowledging the significant role health systems play in contributing to emissions, the health community advocates for greening the health sector. This entails decarbonizing health systems, digitizing medicine, and implementing sustainable practices in hospitals and healthcare facilities to substantially reduce the 5% global emissions attributed to the sector.

Moreover, over a billion people worldwide rely on healthcare facilities with unreliable or no electricity. For low-income countries lacking electricity access, the urgent call is to accelerate access to clean energy. WHO, in collaboration with partners, aims to expedite electrification of healthcare facilities through renewable energies. This transformative change seeks to harmonize medical supplies, reduce reliance on diesel and gas, and lead to cleaner energy sources for better services.

Addressing the Financial Disparity in Health Systems:

Acknowledging the financial gap in health systems, the health community urges increased financing from new sources. The call is to divest from fossil fuel subsidies and mobilize new funds to support health systems in coping with climate change.

The WHO-led Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH) is committed to leveraging the collective influence of WHO Member States and stakeholders. The goal is to advance climate-resilient health systems, aligning with the goals set at COP26 and identifying financing needs.

The glaring disparity in financial support for the health sector, currently receiving a mere 0.5% of global climate financing needs immediate attention. Effectively addressing the myriad challenges ahead, from the ongoing global health crisis to advancements in medical research and technology, necessitates a substantial increase in resources. Bolstering financial support can empower the sector to innovate, adapt, and provide optimal care, ensuring resilient healthcare infrastructure for present challenges and future uncertainties.

The WHO’s Urgent Call for Action at COP28:

As the world converges at COP28, the health community passionately urges for decisive action. It’s imperative for negotiators to recognize that climate action equates to health action; failure to address this reality will deeply impact current and future generations.

This call to action unites the health community in demanding a steadfast commitment to building resilient health systems, reducing emissions, and prioritizing health. The inaugural Health Day seeks to elevate the global understanding of the climate-health nexus, integrating health within the climate change agenda.

With an unprecedented number of health ministers participating in COP28, their presence signifies a commitment to prioritizing health in climate discussions. The Ministerial session promises to amplify urgency by uniting global leaders in implementing sustainable solutions, addressing the critical intersection of health and climate change.

The Legacy of COP28:

The legacy that COP28 aims to leave behind is a commitment to a healthier planet, where health-centric arguments for climate action translate into tangible results. It’s a pivotal moment where global leaders, health communities, and stakeholders unite to tackle the pressing challenges at the nexus of climate change and human health.

The intersection of climate change and human health demands a multifaceted approach, rooted in collaborative efforts, sustainable initiatives, and unwavering commitment from leaders worldwide. Only through collective action can the profound impact of climate change on human health be mitigated, ensuring a sustainable and healthier future for all.

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