Calls for Health Protection in Climate Treaty

Calls for Health Protection in Climate TreatyCalls for Health Protection in Climate Treaty

Ahead of a major climate change meeting in Paris with a goal of reaching a binding global agreement, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that public health impacts have not been given enough attention in the debate.

In a statement, the WHO said now is the time for health voices to speak up, and it issued the first 12 country climate-change-and-health profiles to assist policymakers in considering the effects on health, such as increased transmission of malaria and cholera from flooding.

The November 30 - December 11 talks in the French capital aim to produce a worldwide pact on keeping global warming from climbing past two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, AFP reported.

Among the initiatives the WHO said deserve serious consideration, is a plan for raising the cost of fossil fuels to offset their negative health impacts.

Such a “tax” could possibly reduce air pollution deaths by half, reduce carbon dioxide emissions while raising some $3 trillion in new revenue, WHO said.

  Effects Already Evident

According to WHO, health impacts of climate change are already being seen, with shifts in disease patterns, heat waves, floods, and degraded air quality, along with threats to food, water, and sanitation. The agency estimates that in 2012, 7 million people died from diseases related to air pollution, which it singled out as the biggest single environmental health risk.

The group predicted that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will lead to an additional 25,000 deaths each year from malaria, diarrhea, heat stress, and under-nutrition. Women, children, and people in developing countries will be hardest hit, which will widen health gaps, the WHO added.

Earlier this week, one of the world’s leading infectious disease experts, Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar, also voiced concerns that global climate change discussions are not giving enough attention to the health impacts of climate change that the world is already experiencing. He added that the WHO hadn’t made its voice heard on the topic.

Farrar said in a Nov 14 London Observer story that people in general do not think of the health impacts, which are not an abstract threat. He said the three main health issues are the spread of infectious diseases, related issues of pollution and urbanization, and worsening migration.

Other examples are flooding, which could threaten Vietnam’s rice crops, a key global food source, and air pollution, which causes from 7 million to 8 million premature deaths each year, he told the Observer.

  Country-Specific Profiles

Country profiles from the WHO spell out how the investments in low-carbon development, clean renewable energy, and strengthening climate resilience could yield important health benefits.

The WHO said specific steps to increase resilience to climate risks are also needed, such as early-warning systems for more frequent and severe heat waves and plans to protect water, hygiene, and sanitation during floods and droughts.

Countries have already made commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and take steps to address the threat ahead of COP-21, but more needs to be done, the WHO said.

“If countries take strong actions to address climate change, while protecting and promoting health, they will collectively bring about a planet that is not only more environmentally intact, but also has cleaner air, more abundant and safer freshwater and food, more effective and fairer health and social protection systems—and as a result, healthier people,” it said.

The first of 12 WHO country profiles on health and climate change cover Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Thailand, and Tanzania. The WHO said it will launch more profiles in December and early 2016.