COP28 UAE Presidency, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Wellcome Trust and partners, hosted the first-ever Health Day at the COP28 UN Climate Conference yesterday. A blanket of smog obscured Dubai’s glitzy skyline as heads of the World Health Organization, the International Energy Agency, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates and 50 ministers of health from all over the world gathered to discuss the impact of climate change on human health.
The year 2023 witnessed a shocking surge in climate-related disasters, including wildfires, heatwaves, hurricanes, floods and droughts, leading to the displacement of populations, agricultural losses and heightened air pollution, both indoor and outdoor. These climate shocks will continue to increase in scale, frequency and intensity leading to more and more humanitarian emergencies.
World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the recognition of the climate crisis as a health crisis as “long overdue”, highlighting that 27 COPs (Climate Conferences) have taken place without any focus on health. Climate change exacerbates some existing health threats-among them, respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD – and creates new public health challenges. Worldwide, only considering a few health indicators, an additional 250,000 deaths per year will occur in the next decades because of climate change, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
Climate inaction is costing lives and impacting health every single day. In a powerful speech, US Special Climate Envoy highlighted the link between the health of the planet and human health
“It’s astonishing to me that it has taken as long as it has to have health as the centrepiece of the climate discussion because the reality is that it is killing people around the planet,” said US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry “We should not measure progress on the climate crisis just by the degrees averted but by the lives saved.”
He added“The reality is that a climate crisis and health crisis are one and the same, totally connected, totally converging at this moment in time.”
A ministerial roundtable closed out the first-ever Health Day with many of the 50 health ministers who attended allocated two minutes to talk about why and how they are taking action on health and climate change.
By finally bringing health into the centre of the climate conversation, the stage is set for future COP Climate Conferences and has reaffirmed the symbiotic relationship of human health and the health of the planet.