Climate change and human health

Health, climate change and air pollution

Date: 19 May 2014

In the presence of WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, Ministers of Health from every continent convened on the first day of the Monday 19 May to discuss the global health impacts of climate change and the urgent action needed to confront it. Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, environmental and Social Determinants, chaired a dynamic panel of ministers and climate change experts, all of whom agree that health interventions are critical to increasing resilience to climate change.

DG Margaret Chan and Director Maria Neira from WHO sit among panellist at the side event

Ms. Marisol Touraine, the French Minister for Social Affairs and Health, declared that we can no longer “accept the climate-scepticism,” as this is an issue that has accompanied us for over 20 years. The question that she put to delegate is “how to we advance and what measures do we take going forward?”.

Bent Høie, Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services, reminded participants of how extreme weather events can have an impact on water supply and sanitation, with grave consequences for public health. He linked climate change and air pollution to the risk factors for noncommunicable diseases, placing particular emphasis on lack of physical activity which with consequent impacts on health.

Panellists and speakers from the floor also spoke to action that is already underway to address climate change and its health impacts. Mariyam Shakeela, Minister of Health and Gender in the Maldives, noted that 11 countries in the SEARO region had set targets in this area for 2015. Speaking from the floor, US Assistant Secretary of State for Health Howard Koh highlighted how climate change is a priority for the current American administration, making reference to the US Climate Action Plan for the US launched by President Obama one year ago. A working group with representation from across government departments is currently looking at specific actions and two concrete commitments have emerged: one focused on building resilient health care facilities, and another to incorporate climate change planning at the district and community level, led by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

This well-attended event was one of many that are building momentum towards WHO’s first global conference on health and climate change, taking place in Geneva, Switzerland from 27 to 29 August, 2014. This conference aims provide the evidence, tools and operational mechanism to empower the health and sustainable development community to protect health from climate change, and gain the health benefits of climate actions.

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