The World Health Organization has published its ‘Special Report on Climate Change and Health’ in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow next month.
The report spells out the global health community’s prescription for climate action based on a growing body of research that establishes the many and inseparable links between climate and health. Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, describes the climate crisis as “one of the most urgent health emergencies we all face.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined further the link between people, animals and the environment. WHO says countries around the world must set ambitious national climate commitments if they are to sustain a healthy and green recovery from the pandemic.
“The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “WHO calls on all countries to commit to decisive action at COP26 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s in our own interests.”
WHO’s report concludes that protecting people’s health requires transformational action in every sector, including on energy, transport, nature, food systems and finance. It states clearly that the public health benefits from implementing ambitious climate actions far outweigh the costs.
The report includes ten recommendations that highlight the urgent need and numerous opportunities for governments to prioritise health and equity in the international climate regime and sustainable development agenda.
The launch of WHO’s report coincides with the issue of an open letter, signed by 300 organisations, representing at least 45 million doctors and health professionals worldwide, calling for national leaders and COP26 country delegations to step up climate action.
“Wherever we deliver care, in our hospitals, clinics and communities around the world, we are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change,” the letter states. Examples include the damaging effects of air pollution – which is responsible for more than seven million premature deaths each year (that’s 13 deaths every minute), increases in food-borne, water-borne and vector-borne diseases, extreme weather events, disruption of food systems exacerbating food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition, rising sea levels and mental health problems.