Health at COP28

 Health at COP28

by Sofia Farina

The topic of human, as well as planetary, health and its relationship with climate change is coming to the fore at the COP that is about to start. So let us discover together why this issue is so important and what we can expect from the coming weeks.

What is about to begin will be a special COP for several reasons, which we are collectively telling you about in this exciting and exciting approach, but which is also opening the way for doubts and fears. One of the reasons it will be a special COP is that we will finally be talking about health and the impacts climate change has – and will have – on it, with even a whole day dedicated to this topic, that of Sunday 3 December.

Less than a month before the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has published its review of how health features in nationally determined contributions (the NDCs we talked about here a few days ago) and in long-term country strategies in general, which contains and highlights the actions needed to ensure that people’s health is fully prioritised and integrated into national plans.

The need for such actions, and their urgency, lie precisely in the fact that climate change is already damaging our health and well-being. But how? For example with the diseases caused by extreme weather events, with the increase in the incidence and spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, or with the increase in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases caused by extreme heat and air pollution respectively…

The WHO Director-General recently stated that ‘the health of humans and the health of our planet are inextricably linked and, after years of promises, urgent action is needed to protect both’

The report on present and future health-related policies

The WHO analysis of the strategies of the Parties, i.e. the countries participating in the COP, and specifically of their NDCs shows that significant progress has been made in integrating health into them. To quote some numbers, in fact, as many as 91% of the NDCs include the theme of health, while in 2019 this percentage stood at 70%. However, it should be emphasised that the promises already made are still not enough, in fact the WHO report stresses that after this first step of recognising the connection between human health and climate change, the next steps are also urgently needed, which include major funding to enable an equitable response to emergencies, for present and future generations.

The financial commitment to this endeavour

The issue of funding for climate action for health is particularly hot, as it is always underfunded in national plans. In fact, we find from the report that only 2% of adaptation funding and 0.5% of total climate funding is currently allocated to projects that explicitly aim to protect or improve human health. For this reason, WHO is crying out for a change of direction in terms of funding for policies and initiatives that explicitly aim to protect and improve human health.

It is always good to note that, here too, the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis are also those that have the least economic resources available to act.

Air pollution, the king of human health risks

Of all the various declinations that the impact of the ongoing climate and environmental crisis may have on our health, surely air pollution is the most pressing and urgent to address. In fact, air pollution and domestic pollution together cause about seven million premature deaths each year from ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as asthma and pneumonia, which disproportionately affect – as we anticipate – children in low- and middle-income countries.

Interestingly, investing in health protection also pays off in economic terms, as countries are expected to reap benefits far in excess of the financial investments required to mitigate climate change. For example, the US analysis shows that the improvements in air quality that would result from implementing climate change mitigation measures could prevent up to 300,000 deaths and simultaneously avoid $150-250 billion in health and climate damage by 2030. Similarly, the sustainable development plans of other countries, including Fiji, Morocco and Spain, recognise that achieving climate change mitigation targets will result in economic savings mainly through the reduction of air pollution and its consequences.

For further details, the full report can be found here: https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/climate-change/9789240074729-v2.pdf?sfvrsn=f4c8b157_4.

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