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Groundbreaking health and climate conference

World Health Organization holds groundbreaking health and climate conference

The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding its first conference on climate change and health at its headquarters in Geneva this week, with New Zealand health experts in attendance.

The conference has support from world leaders including Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, head of the World Bank, and Prince Charles. Conference sessions are being live streamed on the internet to allow health professionals all over the world to participate.

Since 2008 WHO has shown leadership in raising awareness of the health threats posed by climate change. This conference aims to help health communities to protect health in the face of climate change, and to take advantage of the health benefits associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The magnitude of the challenge was evident in the opening session of the conference. Prince Charles, in a video address, asserted that climate change is the greatest of all the threats facing our continued survival. He noted that we cannot wait to act, and that the medical profession has a particular and vital role to play.

Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, observed that we are the first generation that understands the impacts of climate change, and the last that can do something about it.

“Climate change is already contributing to the global burden of disease and premature death, with worse to come” says Dr Rhys Jones of OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council. OraTaiao member Professor Alistair Woodward, speaking at the conference, warned that large parts of the world may be uninhabitable by the end of this century due to global warming.

“Climate change is a health threat for all New Zealanders, with Maori, Pacific people, children, the elderly, and low income groups likely to be the hardest hit. At the same time we have exciting opportunities to make a real difference to health and fairness through well-designed climate policies” Dr Jones says.

“Housing insulation, better diets, clean energy, great public transport and safer walking and cycle-ways will all give a double benefit. They provide immediate health benefits, especially to New Zealand's poorest families, and also lead the way on reducing greenhouse gas emissions” says Dr Jones.

Climate change has been described as the number one health threat of the 21st century. The WHO health and climate conference confirms the urgent need for action, and places health on centre-stage in climate change discussions.

ENDS

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