Paris Deal’s “right to health” cannot be achieved without ambitious action

Madrid — The global health community meeting at the Global Climate and Health Summit alongside COP25 urged governments meeting at the climate negotiations in Madrid to turn words into action and start implementing  measures to incorporate health into the COP agenda, as foreseen by the Paris Agreement (1).

Health professionals stressed that we must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees if we are serious about protecting the “right to health”. Therefore, it is key for countries to set ambitious commitments in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Jeni Miller, Global Climate Health Alliance (GCHA) Executive Director, said: “Responding to the climate change challenge is no longer about how shall we do it and do we have the money to pay for it – it is about the political willingness to take adequate action. The time for words is long gone – today is the time for governments to get on with bold climate health action”.

A recent global survey by the World Health Organization on climate change and health indicates that a majority of countries are exposed, vulnerable and still unsupported to deal with the health impacts of climate change.

A report published today at the Summit concluded that climate vulnerable countries such as Tuvalu do not have access to international climate finance, reporting a lack of information for finance opportunities and a lack of capacity to develop financial proposals.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “Extreme heat waves, air pollution, and increasingly intense floods, wildfires and other natural disasters are already heavily impacting the human rights and health of millions of people. These effects will intensify, as our climate emergency accelerates. Climate change kills. By committing to human rights law, States pledged to take all possible measures to uphold their peoples’ rights, including to health. That must mean stronger climate action – and accountability – now.”

Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization, said: “For the Paris Agreement to be effective to protect people’s health, governments need to prioritize building health system resilience to climate change, and a growing number of national governments are clearly headed in that direction. By systematically including health in Nationally Determined Contributions – as well as National Adaptation Plans, climate finance pledges, and other climate plans — the Paris Agreement could become the strongest international health agreement of the century.

COP25 must lay the groundwork for countries to deliver ambitious updated climate action commitments, in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C, when revised NDCs and Long Term Strategies (LTS) are due in 2020. An important start on LTS was made on Net Zero pledges at the UN Climate Action Summit convened by Secretary General Antonio Guterrez in New York, where 77 countries and over 100 cities made net zero commitments.

These commitments and their full implementation will determine the outlook for human health and well-being on this planet.

The health cost savings, globally, from actions needed to limit warming to 1.5°C would more than pay for that mitigation, through reduced air pollution exposure alone. Significant additional health co-benefits will come from increased physical activity when countries improve their active and public transportation systems to reduce vehicle emissions; and from healthier diets through transformation of our food systems. These health co-benefits are above and beyond the health benefit of avoided climate change impacts themselves. 

Integrating “health” into countries’ revised NDCs, and bringing the health sector into national climate policy and decision making can help deliver these benefits.

The next international climate negotiations, COP26, will be hosted in Glasgow, UK, 9 – 19 November 2020.–end–

For information:

Luisa Colasimone, [email protected], +‭351 910 678 050‬

GCHA Executive Director, Jeni Miller, will be present and available for interview between Dec 2nd and 9th – also available for interviews following these dates.

Note to Editors:

(1) Some 600 health professionals from over 50 countries met at the Global Climate and Health Summit in Madrid, which is the largest international conference of doctors and health professionals active in climate change action.

The health sector demands governments at the climate negotiations to focus on the following:

  1. Loss and Damage — With increased migration and displacement due to climate impacts ranging from multi-year droughts to devastating storms and wildfires, humanitarian and health organizations have flagged the importance of international agreements on loss and damages that will protect the health and human rights of adversely impacted people and that will provide the needed resources to support their recovery.
  2. Carbon Markets– A top agenda item at COP25 is setting strong rules for carbon markets. Essential considerations for health are: to ensure any market approaches do not simply displace emissions from one country to another without reducing overall emissions; and to establish social and environmental safeguards so that emissions are not traded at the expense of the health of vulnerable communities in high emission zones. The global transition to a low carbon economy must deliver health benefits for all.
  3. Reporting and TransparencyWhile the Paris Agreement requires countries to deliver NDCs, implementation, not legally required, is instead intended to be achieved via transparent international reporting mechanisms — do countries’ NDCs meet their “fair share” of emissions reductions, what are their actual national emissions, etc. The “right to health” requires that the climate regime not just promise, but actually deliver greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions aligned with 1.5°C, and these reporting mechanisms are part of the globally agreed upon approach to ensuring implementation.
  4. Climate FinanceHistorical emissions of many developed countries mean that reducing current emissions alone would not allow them to contribute their “fair share” toward achieving 1.5°C. Meanwhile, though many developing countries are taking significant steps toward a low carbon economy, they must also spend on adaptation and response as they bear the brunt of current climate impacts. International climate financing is essential to support developing countries to meet their mitigation goals; and equally, to support their adaptation and resilience. Both of these aspects can help strengthen trust in and broad-based commitment to the global climate regime. $100 billion has been promised to the Green Climate Fund but has not yet been fully delivered. Only a tiny percentage of all global climate funding goes to climate and health. Much more is needed for health system adaptation, and for basic public health interventions that improve people’s baseline health status and thus their resilience in the face of climate change impacts. Notably, fossil fuel consumption subsidies in non-OECD countries were nearly US$430 billion in 2018. If production subsides and environment costs are included, the total is in the trillions of US dollars.
  5. Adaptation: Adaptation is addressed both within countries’ National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and, in some cases, within their NDCs. The goal in both cases is for countries to address climate change risks in all of their planning, across sectors. With increasing impacts of climate change being experienced around the world, robust adaptation planning that prepares countries and communities is essential to minimizing the lives lost and the threats to health.