Latest estimates indicate that the value of health gains from climate action would be approximately double the cost of mitigation policies at global level, and the benefit-to-cost ratio is even higher in countries such as India and China.
In recent years the subject of health has gained increasing prominence at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP). A Global Climate and Health Summit is held alongside the COP and attracts a good turnout, as do the Development & Climate Days, which also address issues relevant to human health. However, with the appointment of the new Director General (DG) of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, global advocacy for climate change action has been revitalised. The new DG has identified action on climate change as a top priority for the WHO. At the launch of the WHO’s COP24 Special Report: Health and Climate Change Dr Tedros declared that “The Paris Agreement is potentially the strongest health agreement of this century.” The report has attracted a good deal of attention and this might be partly due to its clear policy recommendations, including a call for countries to account for health in all cost-benefit analyses of climate change mitigation. Other recommendations include countries identifying through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) specific commitments to cut emissions of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants; ensuring that the commitments to assess and safeguard health in the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement are reflected in operational mechanisms at national and global levels; and the inclusion of the health implications of mitigation and adaptation measures in economic and fiscal policy. The latest estimates included in the report indicate that the value of health gains from climate action would be approximately double the cost of mitigation policies at global level, and the benefit-to-cost ratio is even higher in countries such as India and China.
COP24 saw a couple of health-related events we haven’t seen before, including the official launch of UNEP’s Adaptation Gaps Report which for the first time had a focus on health, and an event at the Multilateral Development Banks (MDB) Pavilion sharing the lessons learnt from a health and climate change technical assistance project in the Mekong region (Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Cambodia) that was managed by the Asian Development Bank and funded by the Nordic Development Fund (see photo).
Also to note is that at least one country delegation – Thailand – included representatives from the health sector on their negotiation team. There might be more but I didn’t hear of it. Perhaps the health sector should set this as a benchmark with which to gauge if the health message is getting through at the negotiations. Robust and effective partnerships between health and environment ministries at the national level are crucial to the involvement of health sector professionals in climate negotiations, and the quality of these relationships varies from country to country.
So, let’s hope that these events and the reinvigorated leadership coming out of the WHO on action on climate change and its clear benefits to health, the environment and the economy, will find their way to the negotiating tables and start to make some difference.
* Full disclosure – I was involved as a Lead Author for the UNEP Adaptation Gaps Report, and as a technical advisor on the ADB project.