No one should be allowed to stay ahead

Yesterday the UN panel on Climate justice was open for question from the audience. I really appreciated one of the comments addressed to the speakers so I decided to interview the man that shared his opinion with the public.

Who are you and how are you taking part in the COP23 ?

My name is Peter Sainsbury and my background is in public health. I am the president of a group in Australia called “Climate and Health Alliance” which is part of the “Global Climate and Health Alliance”. We try to emphasise the significance of health and the catastrophic effects climate change will have on health. We also try to underline the very big carbon footprint that the health sector has and the potential to reduce the carbon footprint within this sector.

I really liked the observation you made during the panel on climate justice. Can you please repeat it for us?
It has become sort of a catchphrase since Paris: “nobody should be left behind”. In many ways, it is a great catchphrase. It does emphasise things that are often forgotten: people within countries and also poorer states get left behind. They don’t have the resources to make the transition they need.

The problem with this catchphrase is that it keeps the focus on those people and countries that are at the base of the social economic pile. It almost seems to imply that this is the pyramid area where the problem lies. But if there are people at the bottom of the economic pile, it is because there are people at the top. In fact, people at the top are there because they are affluent, powerful, they got all the advantages and make the decisions. They are the one that create poverty at the bottom, it is not the people in poverty that help create the one at the top.

As already mentioned, the slogan “no one is left behind” keeps the focus on the most disadvantaged, rather than saying that is an issue for the whole society. Poverty and related disadvantages will be eliminated only when there are no people with many resources who decide for everyone.

I think that in the future we will help the people and regions in difficulty. They will have a better standard of living and better health, but there will still be dramatic inequalities if we don’t care about the subject. People at the bottom of the pyramid will be better but people at the top will get better even further. I am suggesting that a better motto might be “no one should be allowed to stay ahead” , because that would emphasizes that it is a problem of the whole society.

Regarding the topic of health, what is the most urgent problem caused by climate change?
At the moment the most urgent problem is the health effects of extreme weather events: floods, cyclones, heatwaves, bushfires… These events cause illnesses and deaths throughout the world, even in affluent countries but mostly in poorer countries. It will continuously get worse. If climate change gets worse, it will start to affect food supplies, fresh water will become more scarce. This will create more problems around climate migration and probably generate more conflict in and between nations.

Summing up, there are short-term problems caused by weather events, but in the long run there will be much more serious social problems arising from climate change that will affect people’s health.

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