“The most important public health agreement ever”
At a press conference held by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Day 3 of COP21, a WHO representative declared that “everyone thinks this climate treaty is about the environment, about biodiversity, but really this is the most important public health agreement ever.” This statement was repeated at the Climate and Health Summit Saturday December 5th hosted jointly by the Global Climate and Health Alliance and the WHO. For the WHO, the UN body responsible for health, to make such a strong statement clearly shows the shift of the health sector to recognizing the gravity of the projected impacts of climate change on health.
Climate change has been identified as the biggest threat to public health globally this century in academic literature, and yet recent work by the Tracking Adaptation to Climate Change Consortium (TRAC3) shows that many jurisdictions have yet to develop an adaptation plan or report any health adaptation initiatives. In Canada, for example, the province of Quebec emerges as a leader in public health adaptation, having implemented a large number of initiatives addressing a variety of the health risks posed by climate change. Meanwhile, other provinces such as Alberta have yet to develop an adaptation plan.
Stepping up mitigation efforts now means that adaptation will be more likely to be successful in developing resilient futures. The difference between increasing temperatures by 1.5C and 2C will have vast impacts on the health of vulnerable populations. Not only that, but mitigating greenhouse gas emissions has substantial co-benefits for health, particularly for reducing chronic respiratory illnesses associated with air pollution. For example, currently the effects of air pollution on health and mortality are comparable to tobacco.
With the COP21 climate negotiations drawing to a close in Paris this week, the outcome will have significant impacts on health, as “the most important public health agreement ever.”