The First Climate and Health Ministers’ Meeting, hosted today in partnership with the World Health Organization,WHO, and the UN as part of the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting, highlighted the serious impact of climate change on people as well as the environment.
Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Dr Hussein Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary for Centres and Health Clinics, UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, and Dr Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage and Health Systems at WHO, co-chaired the session.
In his principal remarks, Dr Al Zeyoudi said: “The medical bills from climate change are staggering, the humanitarian bills are staggering, and the number of deaths is unacceptable. But I want to take a more positive and balanced outlook here: Not just that climate change kills, but that climate action saves lives. Not just that health impacts are expensive, but that climate action is worth investing in.”
Dr Al Zeyoudi noted that the UAE is leading the world in embedding climate action in its health strategies. This statement was reinforced by the release of the UAE country profile study of climate threats in partnership with WHO and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention. According to the study, three of the biggest threats are health-linked: projected annual temperature rise of five percent – severely impacting the elderly, children, low-income households, and individuals with pre-existing health conditions; respiratory diseases from air pollution and dust; and damage to health infrastructure and disruption of healthcare services due to sea-level rise and extreme events.
The roundtable featured Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, Dr Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage at WHO, Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Representative on Climate Change, Francesco La Camera, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency,IRENA, Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Carol Welch, Director of Strategy, Planning and Management at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Yannick Glemarec, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, in a video message urged political leaders to speed up the transition to a low-carbon economy to mitigate health risks. Attendees included experts, government officials, and mayors from around the world.
Ministers and other government representatives from Peru, Singapore, Sweden, Poland, Morocco, Egypt, Finland, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Germany, Maldives, Spain, Antigua and Barbuda, and Palau also contributed to the discussion.
The participants decided that the recommendations for the UN Climate Action Summit, set to take place in September 2019 in New York, should incorporate health impacts into climate change solutions in three key areas: Air pollution: As two-thirds of outdoor air pollution come from fossil fuels, it is clear that the solutions to the air pollution problem are the same as the objectives of low-carbon economy policies, such as clean energy and green transport. The delegates agreed it is imperative to align the climate change and air pollution agendas. They also noted that the health community is now mobilized in climate action and views breathing clean air as a basic human right.
Climate-induced stress and disasters: There is not one single climate-induced disaster where health is not a component, with diseases, pandemics, endemics, poor sanitation, and malnutrition being the consequences of extreme weather. Humans must mitigate risks and adapt to climate change in order to prevent every shock and hazard from becoming a disaster. The participants decided to make adaptation and resilience a key stream at the upcoming Summit.
Finance: Despite the agreement to align the health and climate change agendas, the delegates noted that only 0.5 percent of climate finance specifically targets health, owing to a mix of mandate and mindset barriers. There are proven interventions that require a wider application, such as early warning systems, healthcare facilities powered by green energy, and investment in crops and livestock to mitigate the impact of CO2 on nutrition levels. The participants agreed that this is a matter not only for governments but also for the private and philanthropic sectors.