Family in Africa looking at a smartphone.

Climate change and health: an alarming situation that affects everyone

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the French Government held the 2nd World Conference on Health and Climate in Paris on July 7- 8, around the theme ‘building healthier societies through the implementation of the Paris Agreement’

The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 Climate Change Summit in December 2015, marked a new era in global action against climate change.

Signed by 195 nations, it saw a commitment to ensuring global temperatures do not rise beyond 1.5°C in order to protect island states at risk from rising sea levels.

At the core of the Paris Agreement was the acceptance that all countries have a role in tackling climate change, and that all populations have a ‘right to health’.

This month’s World Conference on Health and Climate facilitated further discussion about the Paris Agreement and paved the way for input into COP22, in Marrakech in November.

Who is at risk from climate change?

Climate change represents one of the most serious health challenges of our time.

By 2030, it’s estimated that climate change-related malaria, diarrheal disease, heat stress and malnutrition will account for some 250,000 deaths worldwide, with the burden falling heaviest on women, children, the elderly and the poor.

More frequent outbreaks of diseases like cholera and dengue fever are already being attributed to climate change, as are extreme weather events like floods and heat waves. Pollution levels – linked to lung cancer and stroke – now account for almost 7 million deaths each year.

What can be done?

The Paris conference called for urgent action to address these concerns via a range of measures such as the adoption of cleaner energy – including investing in natural supplies that can power medical facilities in low-income countries.

It also backed better access to safe, clean water, more sustainable food production, and the promotion of healthier diets rich in local in-season fruits and vegetables.

Delegates said these measures would not only help improve the environment but also reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, obesity and malnutrition. These actions tie in with WHO’s Decade of Action on Nutrition and its 2016 World Health Assembly Agenda.

WHO also used the Paris conference to announce a working group to develop a more coherent approach to evaluating health economics and the benefits of fighting climate change.

Delegates said there was a need for countries to factor the savings and benefits of environmental and climate-based health policies in when determining economic progress and wealth. The provision for adequate funding for climate change-related health initiatives was also discussed.

In addition, there was a clear desire to ensure that progress countries made in terms of protecting health from climate change and meeting WHO’s Sustainable Development Goals was measured.

The conference also drew attention to the need for strong leadership from the health community when lobbying policymakers and communicating with the public about the effects of climate change on health.

It’s clear now more than ever that climate change isn’t just an environmental challenge – it’s a global health emergency that urgently needs addressing.

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