WHO calls for stronger action on climate-related health risks
GENEVA, Switzerland – Previously unrecognized health benefits could be realized from fast action to reduce climate change and its consequences, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which kicked off a three-day conference on the topic Wednesday.
“The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “Solutions exist, and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.”
Dr. Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be a presenter in a panel presentation on “Health Benefits from Climate Change Mitigation Actions.” Patz is a pioneer in climate and health, shared the 2007 Nobel Prize for his work with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-chaired the health panel of the first Congressionally mandated U.S. National Assessment on Climate Variability and Change.
“Public health is central to the climate change issues, not only because of risks but of the opportunities from a low-carbon economy,” Patz says. “Addressing climate change is a golden opportunity for global health.”
First ever global conference
The first-ever global conference on health and climate brings together more than 300 participants, including government ministers, heads of UN agencies, urban leaders, civil society and leading health, climate and sustainable-development experts. WHO, looks for changes in policies governing energy and transportation that would cut air pollution, encourage active transportation and reduce the incidence of disease.
Evidence is overwhelming
Climate change is already causing tens of thousands of deaths every year from shifting patterns of disease, from extreme weather events, such as heat-waves and floods, and from the degradation of water supplies, sanitation, and impacts on agriculture, according to the most recent WHO data.
The health sector needs to act quickly and assertively to promote climate-smart strategies, climate and health experts warn. WHO and its partners highlight the importance of acting now to help protect health in the present as well as the future. The health community is working hard to improve its capacity for surveillance and control of infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue, which are highly sensitive to weather and climate.
“Vulnerable populations, the poor, the disadvantaged and children are among those suffering the greatest burden of climate-related impacts and consequent diseases, such as malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition, which already kill millions every year,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health. “Without effective action to mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change on health, society will face one of its most serious health challenges,” she says.
“But the good news is that reducing climate change can yield substantial and immediate health benefits” says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “The most powerful example is air pollution, which in 2012 was responsible for 7 million deaths – one in eight of all deaths worldwide. There is now solid evidence that mitigating climate change can greatly reduce this toll,” she adds.
The conference aims to pave the way for careful consideration of health and climate issues in the upcoming U.N. Climate Summit, being organized by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon September 23 in New York City. The UW-Madison—Global Health Institute, Nelson Institute, Wisconsin Energy Institute and Office of Sustainability—is a co-hosting organization for the Sept. 22 Action in Climate Change, a recognized Side Event to the U.N. Climate Summit.
From WHO/ August 27, 2014