As we draw closer to the end of the second week of COP21, people are starting to feel the health effects of chronic lack of sleep, poor eating habits and limited exercise. Energy levels are waning as we now await the final Paris agreement. So many people have put their own health aside for the moment in a great effort to protect the health of the planet and current and future generations.
I have been here from the start, as one of a delegation for the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA). We are seven keen medical students from Australia, Tunisia, Denmark, Canada, Italy and Panama. Our key message? Climate change is the biggest human health threat of the 21st century, but actions to address climate change give us one of the greatest opportunities to improve people’s health. To address the health impacts of climate change and the health co-benefits of mitigation and adaptation, we must recognise health and human rights including the rights of indigenous people and gender equity in the text. Most importantly, we must commit to actions that limit global warming to below 1.5oC and allow us to manage the impacts of climate change.
As a graduating doctor, I feel an enormous responsibility to advocate for the health of my future patients. Climate change must be addressed as a public health issue. Health must be in the centre of climate change negotiations and climate change must be in the centre of public health.
Something that hasn’t been emphasised enough are the enormous health gains we can achieve by implementing climate change policies. The World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people die prematurely each year from the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution – that’s more than tuberculosis, HIV and malaria combined. Much of this is due to burning fossil fuels. Switching to clean renewable energy and providing clean cook stoves will help dramatically reduce this burden. WHO also estimates that annually 2.8 million people die from being overweight or obese, 3.2 million die from a lack of physical activity and 1.2 million die from road traffic crashes. Well-structured policies addressing active and public transport and nutrition and agriculture could also have huge benefits for health.
Here in Paris we have seen an unprecedented mobilisation of the health community. We have had calls to action and declarations signed by the health community representing 1,700 health organisations, 8,200 hospitals and health facilities and 13 million health professionals and students. There have been dozens of health side events, including an official event opened by the World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan and the Climate and Health Summit which had a full day program featuring health Ministers and leaders from around the world.
Despite these enormous efforts in and around COP21, health is being overlooked in the negotiations. All mention of health has been removed from Article 2 (the purpose of the agreement) and is being threatened to be removed from the purpose of the agreement. On our part, we have been running around the COP21 venue, speaking with as many countries and groups as possible to push for health language to remain in the purpose and preamble of the text.
As a young person and future health professional, I am frustrated with the lack of inclusion of youth in the negotiations. Climate change will affect every aspect of my professional life and it will be my peers and I who will be implementing climate change policies. We and future generations, not the negotiators, will be dealing with the consequences of the decisions made at Conferences of Parties and so should have a stronger role in decision making processes.
As an Australian I have been pleasantly surprised by our participation in negotiations and our support for the inclusion of the 1.5oC goal. But we still have a long way to go. Our current INDC target is far from sufficient to limit warming to 1.5 degrees and we are still not giving our fair share of climate financing.
We are looking forward to an agreement being finalised sometime this weekend. Climate change will not be solved by the end of this weekend, but this agreement will provide an important starting point to globally coordinated serious action on climate change.
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