Health should lead climate change fight – WHO

Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-28), WHO has published its “2023 review of health in nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies” highlighting the actions needed to ensure that people’s health is fully prioritised and integrated into national plans to fight climate change.

Climate change is already harming human health and wellbeing. From illness caused by extreme climate events to the increased incidence and spread of vector-borne diseases; and the rise in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases caused by extreme heat and air pollution respectively – the impacts of climate on human health are inescapable.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “The health of humans and our planet are inextricably linked, and after years of promises rapid action is needed urgently to protect both.”

“Only climate policies driven by health outcomes will result in the action needed to save lives, prevent disease, and build healthier, fairer societies”.

Significant progress has been made in the integration of health into nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and long-term low emissions and development strategies (LT-LEDS), the main policy instruments to reduce emissions and build climate resilience as set out by the Paris Agreement.

 “Countries have made significant progress in recognising climate change’s threat to human and planetary health in their national plans to tackle climate change, but we need to see these commitments scaled up, accelerated, and adequately funded to ensure an equitable response that protects the health and livelihoods of current and future generations,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health.

Despite this progress, there remain huge gaps in the action being taken. Ambitious action on air pollution will save lives, yet only 16% of NDCs include standalone targets, measures or policies to reduce air pollution.

To ensure an equitable and effective response to climate change, WHO is calling for multilateral climate financing mechanisms to allocate more funding to policies and initiatives that explicitly aim to protect or improve human health.

WHO continues to support countries to protect health by building climate resilient health systems, reducing carbon emissions from healthcare, and tracking global progress.

WHO is working with the COP28 Presidency to lead the first-ever day dedicated to health at COP on 3 December 2023 and the meeting of Health and Climate Ministers, underlining the urgent need to accelerate health-focused climate action at every level.

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