Leading health experts are urging strong climate action, as the first every global climate and health conference kicks of in Geneva.
The World Health Organisation’s three-day conference will bring together meteorologists, diplomats and medics, and aims to highlight the growing threat climate change poses to public health, as well as joint solutions to the two issues.
Speaking at the conference, Dr Margaret Chain, WHO Director-General said:
The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health. Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.
Climate change is described as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.
The devastating air pollution produced by burning fossil fuels with its links to a range of health problems including asthma and cancer will be the key concern.
The World Health Organization has estimated that air pollution was responsible for around 7 million deaths worldwide in 2012.
As re-confirmed by leaked drafts of the IPCC’s latest report, rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events already increase heat-related illnesses, enhance the spread of disease, reduce crop yields and threaten access to clean water, and could result in forced migration, conflict and social disruption.
Bold climate action will save huge numbers of lives and produce significant cost savings in the health sector.
Coming at a critical time in the fight against climate change, the WHO conference has been welcomed by medical professionals.
Dr Liz Hanna, president of the Climate and Health Alliance, Australia said:
The leadership from the World Health Organisation in convening this conference is welcome and timely. The health of people everywhere is being affected by the actions of polluting industries that are failing to reduce the production of harmful greenhouse gases and by governments that are failing to impose a penalty on high emitting activities.
For the sake of people’s health, it is time we decided as a global community that enough is enough. We must insist that health is protected as a fundamental human right.
The outcome of this week’s summit will inform the work of the WHO, doctors and governments in the months and years to come.
It will also have a wider reach, feeding – along with recommendations from other sectors – into the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York next month.
The pressure is now on government leaders to acknowledge this and act accordingly in New York and ultimately agree a strong global climate agreement at the 2015 UN talks in Paris.