Why is health important at COP-28?
Why is health important at COP-28?

Has health been talked about at a past UN Conference of Parties? What are the expected results of COP28 in terms of health? How can we make public health more resistant to climate change? Who will pay for this change? What problems do experts think will arise?

What we know so far:

The United Nations Conference of Parties (COP28) meeting in the UAE on December 3 will be the first time in 28 years of climate change talks that the climate-health nexus will be the main topic of discussion.

Unchecked releases of greenhouse gases are causing extreme weather, air pollution, lack of food security, water shortages, and people to move, all of which change the path of vector-borne diseases.

The worst effects of climate change are being felt in Africa, Asia, South and Central America, and small island states. These places have done the least to cause it. In response to these problems, 123 countries signed the COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health on December 2.

What is the point of “Health Day” at the TOP?

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber called the event a “groundbreaking Health Day at COP28.” It is intended to raise two questions: how can public health become more resistant to climate change, and who will pay for this change?

India also brought up the complicated link between climate change and public health at the G20 health talks this year, while it was in charge of the group. During New York Climate Week in September, Dr. Al Jaber said, “It is clear that health is linked to climate change, but it has not been a specific focus of the COP process until now.” This needs to change.”

When people talk about climate change, they often talk about health. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says that climate change is having an effect on health.For several years, health events have been held at COP, including at the WHO Health Pavilion. However, this is the first time that

“The meeting is meant to talk about how to include health in climate policies and how to pay for health care in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.”

“Health Day” has never been a real thing,” says Jess Beagley, policy lead at the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA). This is also the first time that ministers from different ministries will meet to talk about health. Ministers from health, the environment, finance, and other ministries will be there.

And even though the text of the Declaration is final, the health ministers will be free to add to it at the meeting. But, “Health Day by itself doesn’t mean that health will necessarily be reflected in the negotiations,” said Dr. Jeni Miller, the head of GCHA. “One thing we need to see to see if this is really a ‘Health COP’ is if the focus on health stays on during negotiations,” she said.

What should we expect from the Health talks?

There will be talks at COP28 in the UAE about reducing pollution, adapting the health sector to climate change, incorporating health into climate policies, and the tricky issue of how to pay for health related to climate change.

But fossil fuels are not mentioned in the Declaration. To stop future pandemics, it says that we need to “intensify efforts for the early detection of zoonotic spillovers” and “strengthen research on the linkages between environmental and climatic factors and antimicrobial resistance.”

It doesn’t talk about ‘fossil fuels’ (coal, oil, and gas) as a source of health risks or the need to stop relying on them. People think that fossil fuels are the main cause of climate change. At the briefing, British epidemiologist Sir Andy Haines said that a promise to gradually phase out fossil fuels and switch to green energy would be good for health. “For example, if we switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we lower the risk of dangerous climate change and the number of deaths that could have been avoided because of air pollution.”

What do you worry about?

According to a 2023 study by the GCHA, most G20 countries, even the rich industrialised ones that are responsible for most of the world’s past greenhouse gas emissions, have not put health at the centre of their climate action.

It was found that low- and middle-income countries, like Burundi and Congo, better dealt with health issues in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). There are clear connections between health and the environment, as well as between sickness and climate change, and these must be taken into account in these

“Countries where people are suffering the worst health effects from climate change,” Ms. Beagley said. Changing weather patterns and rising temperatures are changing the life cycle of vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria, which affect poor and disadvantaged groups more than others.

Then there’s the money issue. Health problems caused by climate change are expected to cost the economy about $24 billion every year by 2030. Another estimate says that 40% of poverty caused by climate change would be due to direct health effects. This is because people’s income, productivity, and health bills would all go through the roof.

Private banks were asked by Dr. Al Jaber to “contribute generously” to the Green Climate Fund in order to meet this need. The Green Climate Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the Global Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation all promised a new $1 billion to help with health and climate change on December 2.

“This $1 billion is a huge boost to the current levels of funding for health and climate change,” Ms. Beagley said. “It’s also important that the money for climate change and health is real new money, not money taken away from other important areas that are important for health, like food security, water and sanitation, and humanitarian action.”

Developing countries have said in the past that they need foreign public grants that don’t add to their debt. But the Declaration supports money for climate health from “domestic budgets, multilateral development banks, multilateral climate funds…”, as well as from charities and people in the private sector.

What does a good Health COP look like?

A phaseout of fossil fuels will be one of the ways we judge whether this has been a “Health COP” or not, Dr. Miller said. “The stakes are really high—we need to see progress on one of the root causes of climate change.” A fair switch to green energy, a promise to cut down on emissions, and grant-based climate financing are some other criteria.

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