Director-General's Office

Introductory remarks at the Ministerial dialogue on ways and means to advance global action on health, environment and climate

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

15 November 2016

Excellencies, honourable ministers, ministers of health and the environment of Morocco, fellow UN agencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to open this meeting together with the Executive Director of UNEP and a representative from WMO.

Environmental risk factors, such as air, water, and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries. In addressing these risk factors, ministers of health and the environment are natural partners.

Climate change is the defining issue of the 21st century. We have to ensure our actions honour the commitments of all signatories to the historic Paris Agreement.

The health consequences of a degraded environment can be measured and costed, and this strengthens the call for both action and resources.

As history shows, the health sector can provide the evidence and arguments that raise the alarm and compel change.

In the 19th century, health provided the evidence that contaminated water contributes significantly to morbidity and mortality, prompting investments in water and sanitation that prevented outbreaks, raised standards of living, and improved health outcomes.

In the 20th century, the health sector documented excess morbidity and mortality associated with pollution. That evidence prompted a movement towards cleaner energy, more sustainable transport systems, and urban planning that can reduce exposure to harmful emissions.

In this century, we are stressing evidence about the health costs and consequences of climate change.

Simply stated, the planet is losing its capacity to sustain human life in good health. Destabilization of the climate compromises access to the most fundamental requirements for human survival: safe water, clean air, sufficient food, and secure shelter.

The fact that we now have the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is a cause for optimism, though much remains to be done.

We already have well-established processes for coordinating the work of health and environment ministers in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. These coordinating mechanisms bring together countries with similar or shared cross-border environmental and health challenges.

This meeting aims to discuss how these mechanisms can be reinforced at the global level as countries aim to comply with their obligations under the Paris Agreement and with the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

More sustainable food production and healthier diets benefit both the environment and health. Sustainable transport likewise benefits health as well as the environment, especially when cities are designed to promote active mobility.

Our continuing collaboration has support from the Breathe Life Campaign, jointly launched by WHO and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

This meeting will give WHO and UNEP, working with WMO and the climate convention secretariat, an additional assignment. That is, to identify ways and means for a potential coalition on health, environment, and climate change.

I encourage you to consider this coalition as you discuss concrete actions that put some teeth into the momentum created by the Paris Agreement. The level of political action and financial investment does not yet match the scale of the catastrophe heading our way.

Thank you.