Healthier Climate Change Talks

6 November 2009

Two organizations highlighted at a mid-week press conference that focusing on the health effects of climate change puts a human face on the negotiations.

Josh Karliner (Health Care Without Harm) and Genon Jensen (Health and Environment Alliance) presented Dr. Roberto Bertollini of the World Health Organization with a larger than life “Prescription for a Healthy Planet” endorsed by dozens of major international health organizations.  Among those supporting the diagnosis of a planet increasingly presenting the symptoms of a sick climate are the International Council of Nurses, representing nursing associations in 128 countries, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, and the Standing Committee of European Doctors, which brings together 27 national medical associations in countries.  When filled, the prescription will help negotiators strike a deal for a strong and legally binding agreement in Copenhagen.

Public health professionals are focusing on how extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods affect their patients and their work in poor and rich countries alike. Earlier this year, the Global Humanitarian Forum noted that increasingly severe heat waves, floods, storms and forest fires could push the annual death toll to 500,000 by 2030.  Research in Europe shows that heat waves increase death rates, especially among older people and those with breathing problems.

In contrast, reducing carbon emissions will bring positive health returns. For example, said Dr. Bertollini, “choosing policies that reduce carbon emissions bring positive returns for public health.  For example, developing sustainable public transport policies which encourage walking and cycling, and eating less red meat, can help mitigate climate change and also improve health.”

The European Commission has estimated that a 20% reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 could lead to savings on national health bills of up to EURO 51 billion in the EU alone. Research supported by CAN-Europe, the Health and Environment Alliance and WWF shows that savings would be increased to EURO 76 billion with a 30% reduction.

The Prescription for a Healthy Planet diagnoses the planet’s problem as overconsumption of fossil fuels leading to global climate destabilization.  It calls on global leaders to protect public health, move to clean energy, reduce emissions and provide finance for global action.

In Europe, HEAL and HCWH are calling for a 40% reduction target and for the EU  to contribute at least EURO 35 billion per year to fund global action on climate change, of which a proportion should be allocated to the health sector.

These groups have urged negotiators to strengthen the health dimension in the current text. They will also lead a health delegation to Copenhagen where leading doctors, nurses, public health experts and a group of trainee doctors will be spreading the word in the halls and on the streets.

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