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COP25 is a failure of leadership of historical proportions

Madrid, 13 December 2019 - The United Nations negotiations on climate change (COP25) are due to close later today in Madrid, after two weeks of talks where countries -- the big emitters in particular -- failed to put us on a path to achieve 1.5 degrees, avert climate catastrophe and protect human health.

COP25’s mediocre outcome is in stark contrast with the recognition by major medical and health organizations, including the World Health Organization, that the climate crisis represents a health emergency, and is at odds with the demands by the millions of people globally who have been taking to the streets to call for climate action. (1)

Commenting on the outcomes of COP25, Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) said: “World leaders’ collective failure to act is not only inexcusable, but rises to a failure of government and of leadership of historical proportions. At a time when leading health organizations have recognized the climate crisis as a health emergency and people around the world are experiencing the impacts of climate change on their health, livelihoods, and homes, government leaders are still arguing about timelines, equivocating over rules, and pointing fingers.

Many countries have a share in the blame, but the US move to begin withdrawal from the Paris Agreement deserves particular censure. The US bears major historical responsibility for climate change, and currently ranks second in annual greenhouse gas emissions. Other high emitting countries have largely failed to step up to fill the leadership void. Some, like Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Brazil, are in stasis on key issues or even blocking progress. And using the excuse that high income countries are not acting to justify not making further progress themselves, as China and India are doing, constitutes not climate leadership but its abdication.

One possible bright spot is the proposal for the European Green Deal, which may in turn enable the EU to push others for increased commitments for COP26, if this week’s pledges are turned into tangible climate legislation in the coming months. Poland’s move to exempt itself from part of the commitments is not the most auspicious start, though the Green Deal can still proceed despite this.

Many cities around the world, many businesses and hospital systems, innovators and individuals, are doing their part to make the changes needed to get us on course. But only international leadership and agreements among major national governments can deliver the policy signals, trade agreements, and international funding to generate the sustained, coherent, ambitious climate action required to prevent catastrophic impacts on the health and well-being of people in all nations.

Jeni Miller said: “Health groups are demanding action. There is a rising tide of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who recognize that protecting the health of our patients and our communities now requires us to push governments to deliver the needed climate action. Our ranks will only grow, and our demands become stronger, until national leaders put us on track to a stable, healthy climate. The health of every child alive today will be defined by the choices we are making now.”

The next international climate negotiations, COP26, will be hosted in Glasgow, UK, 9 – 19 November 2020.

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