People care about their health. This is obvious in the top three 2016 New Year’s resolutions were “enjoy life to the fullest”, “live a healthier lifestyle” and “lose weight”. And not only do we care about our own health, we care about the health of our children, the health of our friends, partners, extended families and even the health of strangers. So many people in our communities undertake selfless acts to help others – volunteering, donating to charities, donating blood and even donating organs. But how many people know that the biggest threat to health is climate change?
It wasn’t until I became a medical student that I became aware of the links between climate change and health. Once I knew, there was little I could do to avoid improving my knowledge and taking action on this. Climate change and health grew to consume just as much of my time and energy as my medical degree. I began working with other passionate young people who had the same vision to improve the health of our planet and the people living on it.
The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations taken on the ambitious mission of ensuring that every medical student and other young people are aware of the health effects of climate change and have the resources to share this knowledge with others and effectively advocate for action. One of the means to achieve this has been the development of a training manual, titled Climate and Health: Enabling Students and Young Professionals to Understand and Act Upon Climate Change Using a Health Narrative. Over 15 authors, all medical students and junior doctors, across five continents came together to create this tool with the support of the World Health Organization and collaboration with the United Nations Alliance on Climate Change Education, Training and Public Awareness.
We realised that there are very few resources available that explain the links between climate change and health in a language that young people and the general population can understand. UNFCCC Communications and Outreach Coordinator, Nick Nuttall states in this manual that “everyone needs to be equipped with an understanding of the evolving risks but also the opportunities for improved lives and livelihoods from acting on climate change and realizing sustainable development”.
The manual is split into two sections: “knowledge” and “capacity building”. The knowledge section looks at climate science, the concepts of health, social determinants of health, the health impacts of climate change as well as the health co-benefits of action on climate change such as cleaner air, better diets and more opportunity to exercise. We also go into detail about international politics on climate change, including key moments, the role of health in the negotiations and the planning and outcomes of the Paris Agreement. The capacity building section looks at practical ways to apply the knowledge of climate change, health and politics. We go into detail about educating, running workshops and campaigning, based on methods used by IFMSA students from around the world. We also provide template workshop agendas and links to many resources for further reading and specific topics.
Our motives for creating this manual are multi-faceted. We are entering a profession where our core-business is the health and wellbeing of individuals and our communities. In addition to this, our careers will span over the following decades, when we will be dealing with the increasing health impacts of climate change. As we have been repeatedly told, our generation is the first that is dealing with the consequences of climate change and the last that has the opportunity to act.
The health impacts of climate change are numerous and complex, but with the right policies, there are many health benefits that can be achieved. We hope that this training manual will be widely utilised by students, young professionals and the wider community in the work towards achieving a healthier future.
This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm