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COP24 Must Put Health First in Climate Negotiations

Katowice, 13 December 2018:- The Global Climate and Health Alliance today called for countries to follow through on their commitment to protect the “right to health” under the Paris Agreement, ensuring that COP24 negotiators explicitly include “health” in implementation requirements as they race to finish rules for the agreement, in order to address climate change - the greatest health threat of the 21st century.

As COP24 comes to a close, teams from countries around the world are in Katowice to hammer out rules for guiding how the world tackles climate change, and to make key decisions about how the 2015 Paris Agreement is implemented. Developing the implementation “rulebook” is the key task of this year’s climate negotiations.

“We have a major problem here,” said Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance. “So far, people’s health being left completely out of the climate plan”.

Although the Paris Agreement cites people’s “right to health” as one of the fundamental principles to underpin action on climate change, Miller explained, “health is not mentioned once in the rulebook. If it’s not built into the implementation rules, countries will not pay attention to health impacts. This will limit global action to prevent the impacts of climate change on health, and will limit our chances of reaping the health benefits and health cost savings of reducing emissions”.

This is despite a special report from the World Health Organization (WHO) calling for inclusion of health throughout global climate strategies. “We have seven million people per year dying from air pollution. Reducing climate emissions would pay for itself two times over globally,” said leader of the climate change and health team at the World Health Organisation, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, during the half-day Global Climate and Health Summit in Katowice on December 8th, which was hosted by the World Health Organization, along with the Global Climate and Health Alliance, the European Committee of the Regions, and the Pro Silesia Association.

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Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment, at the World Health Organization questioned the lack of focus on health impacts, “How many lives are country negotiators willing to sacrifice? Each year of delay can be tallied in lives.”

“World leaders are just not getting it,” explained Miller. “People’s health is at risk now from climate change. Just last month in California nearly 100 people were killed by wildfires. Heatwaves in Japan this year sent 70,000 people to the hospital. Over 40 million people were affected by hurricanes, storms and floods last year, which are increasing in severity due to climate change. And it is going to get worse. And yet, some countries are still talking about the need to go slowly when it comes to phasing out coal and other fossil fuels.”

In October, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that 100 million premature deaths could be avoided from reduced air pollution by the end of the current century, if countries limit warming to 1.5 degrees, versus 2.0 degrees.

At the Global Climate and Health Summit in Katowice on December 8th, health leaders representing family doctors, nurses, environmental health professionals, medical students, people working on and dealing with chronic diseases, and the world’s first responders, spoke about the immense urgency of tackling climate change to protect the health of their patients and of people around the world.

“The health benefits of action and the health harms of inaction are immense. That has got to be at the center of global decision on climate change. We need to implement the Paris Agreement with decisions at every stage guided by a focus on protecting people’s health,” concluded Miller.


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