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Health Groups Call For Health To Be Put At Heart Of South Africa’s Climate Commitments

South Africa, 7 May 2021:- South African and pan-African health groups are calling on the South African government to recognise that health is the bottom line of climate change, and to put health at the heart of its climate commitments ahead of this November’s COP26 global climate meeting.

In its public submission on South Africa’s draft updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA), the South African Medical Association (SAMA), and Amref Health Africa note that climate change poses severe and numerous threats to human health: “In South Africa, these include exposure to drought, heat (especially for outdoor workers), wildfires, flooding, food security, and mosquito-borne and other infectious diseases”. “At the same time”, added SAMA, “action on climate change offers one of the greatest public health opportunities of the 21st century”. The groups therefore welcome the NDC’s recognition of the constitutional right to a safe and healthy environment, and offer policy guidance in their submission on how this right can be protected and promoted.

NDCs are the 2015 Paris Agreement’s key mechanism for collectively tackling climate change, requiring each country to define a national target and actions to limit global heating. As of May 2021, existing NDCs and country pledges still leave the world on course for a catastrophic 2.4 degrees of heating, however.

In 2020, the World Health Organization and associations representing over 40 million health professionals called for a “green and healthy” COVID-19 recovery. “The pandemic has taught us that health must be part and parcel of every government policy – and as recovery plans are drawn up, governments must also ensure this applies to climate policy”, said Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance. “Now is the moment not just for South Africa, but governments around the world to escalate climate ambition – the alternative is to risk endangering the health of both people and the planet on which we all depend. Healthy populations are a prerequisite for economic recovery, and strong health systems are essential to increase resilience to future crises, such as changing infectious disease patterns and extreme weather events.”

PHASA and SAMA note that in his 2021 State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa said that even while South Africa mobilises for economic recovery, it cannot lose sight of the threat of climate change to its environmental health, socio-economic development, and economic growth. So while welcoming the recent establishment of the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission, they urge the inclusion of the South African health sector in the Commission to help protect public health from the climate threat too.

Amref Health Africa has voiced its belief that “Africa and the global leadership must implement climate change mitigation actions if we are to attain lasting health change as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals”. As global momentum builds towards COP26 this November, the health groups urge governments to address the interlinked priorities of health, climate change, economic sustainability, and equity, by means of ‘Healthy NDCs’.

“Health is the bottom line of climate change” says PHASA, “and now is the time to build a healthier and more resilient nation and planet”.

South Africa’s updated draft Nationally Determined Contribution: Submission by the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA), the South African Medical Association, and Amref Health Africa - April 2021

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