A top-level conference convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) has underlined the need for stronger action on climate-related health risks which are expected to be aggravated by climate change.
Climate change is already causing tens of thousands of deaths every year from shifting patterns of disease, from extreme weather events, such as heat-waves and floods, and from the degradation of water supplies, sanitation, and impacts on agriculture, according to the most recent WHO data.
“The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.”
In a keynote address to the opening session of the Conference on Health and Climate on 27 August, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud outlined the science of climate and climate change, including more extreme events such as heavy rain and heatwaves and the role of rising sea levels in increasing vulnerability to tropical cyclones.
He told senior government delegates that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are at the highest level for 800,000 years. Every year new records are broken, he said. Given the lifespan of CO2 in the atmosphere, the world is committed to a warmer future, he said.
“You can not negotiate with the laws of physics,” said Mr Jarraud.
“Let me be very clear. We know enough to take action. We shall be accountable for 20 or 30 years for the action that we are taking or not taking now. Lack of knowledge is not an excuse. Ignorance is not an excuse,” said Mr Jarraud.
Previously unrecognized health benefits could be realized from fast action to reduce climate change and its consequences. For example, changes in energy and transport policies could save millions of lives annually from diseases caused by high levels of air pollution. The right energy and transport policies could also reduce the burden of disease associated with physical inactivity and traffic injury, according to WHO.
Measures to adapt to climate change could also save lives around the world by ensuring that communities are better prepared to deal with the impact of heat, extreme weather, infectious disease and food insecurity.
In view of the close linkages between climate and health, WHO and WMO recently set up a joint Climate and Health under the auspices of the Global Framework for Climate Services(GFCS) to promote the coordinated development and use of climate services to improve public health. It will increase awareness, build capacity, and connect meteorological services with experts in the health sector in an active partnership for climate adaptation and risk management.
The potential and need for stronger climate services tailored to the health sector needs to improve disease surveillance and management, and tackle emerging climate-related diseases, as well as the role of meteorological services in tackling problems like urban pollution will be discussed by senior WMO officials during the 3-day WHO conference in Geneva.
WMO press release on joint WMO/WHO Climate and Health Office https://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_996_en.html