Climate and Health – a call for action from tomorrow’s global leaders

Translational Global Health – from #COP19, Warsaw. An article  from the team at the IFMSA Think Global Initiative, attending the nineteenth session of the Conference of the Parties in Warsaw - Claudel P-Desrosiers, Chalotte Holm-Hansen, Yassen Tcholakov and Nick Watts. These inspiring young MD-trainees are leading the charge on climate and health at this week’s UN meeting.

Flickr / net_efekt

Flickr / net_efekt

Climate change has important health impacts and given the inequitable distribution of its consequences, it is contributing to increasing health disparities between developing and developed countries. (1,2) Quantitatively, climate change is estimated to be responsible for “154 000 (0.3%) deaths and the attributable burden was 5.5 million (0.4%) DALYs” in 2000.(3) If we continue along the current path, health impacts of climate change will not only increase, but do so faster than ever before. One of the most terrifying things about climate change is that those it affects most are also the most vulnerable people, those living in the poorest countries. They, who are the least responsible for climate change, will bear the largest burden of impact. Inequalities in social and economic development, education, accessibility and quality of basic health care, infrastructures and public policy, will play a crucial part in determining the national consequences climate change impacts. Once again, the poorest populations will be hit the hardest. The World Bank estimates, in a recent report, that a 4 oC warmer world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs.(4) Isn’t that scary?

Climate change will affect health in many ways:

  • Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events (heatwaves, hurricanes, cyclones, massive floods), affecting health care delivery and weakening health systems;

  • Famine, drought threatening food supply of millions, causing malnutrition, mortality and damaging child growth and development;

  • Mass migration, with recent estimations indicating over 200 millions climate change refugees by 2050, posing a threat to social security;

  • Infectious diseases, especially diseases transmitted by mosquitoes (malaria, dengue, yellow fever, West Nile Virus, etc) spreading to new territories;

  • Air pollution, increasing the incidence of lung cancers, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

As we speak, thousands are gathering in Warsaw (Poland) for the 19th meeting of the Conferences of Parties (COP19) for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This intergovernmental process has been operating since 1994, and serves as the international forum for negotiations and discussions on global action to combat climate change. The conference will see over 10,000 experts in climate change, sustainability, and development come together for two weeks from November 11 – 22 to piece together the initial building blocks of a new global agreement, to be delivered in 2015 at COP21 in Paris. You can find all information about #COP19 on the official website: http://www.cop19.gov.pl/.

In the past years, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) has been one of the leading NGOs, delivering powerful interventions, organizing massive mobilization, leading youth efforts, and above all, advocating for a bigger health consideration in the COPs negotiations. It also works together as part of the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) to advocate for policies which promote human health and protect the planet. The Alliance is managed by a number of leading, international environment and health organisations, coordinating their international policy and communications strategy at the UNFCCC. On the 16th of November (in parallel with COP19), the GCHA is holding the second Global Climate and Health Summit, which will develop a road-map for the international health community to mobilize around in the lead up to COP21 in 2015. If you’re in Poland at the time, you can register for the Summit here.

We need to bring the two agendas of health equity and climate change together” - WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health

At this years climate talks, IFMSA has a delegation consisting of five people from all over the world, led by Charlotte Holm-Hansen from Denmark. The delegation will mainly focus on promotion of the second Global Climate and Health Summit, youth participation and how health should not be seen in isolation but as coming with many the co-benefits which can strengthen other issues. The delegation will be blogging daily, and can be followed on twitter using the hashtag #IFMSACOP19.

IFMSA believes that we, as young professionals and as medical students, have no choice but to act. As the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health states, “we need to bring the two agendas of health equity and climate change together”. We need to act as responsible members and leaders of our communities. We must pressure our politicians to implement sustainable and climate-sensitive strategies that go beyond a 4-year political mandate.

Whether you like it or not, climate change is linked to health. Climate equals health. And it’s not too late to stand up for a healthy environment for all. We are now more than 7 billion living on Earth and we need balance and sustainability. We have the potential to improve the life of millions by taking action right now. As Yeb Sano, the delegate from the Philippines, said on Monday during the opening plenary of COP19, we must “stop the madness”.

For health professionals and medical students interested in getting more involved in the climate health efforts, here are a few ideas:

References:

1. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007 4.

2.Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, Ball S, Bell S, Bellamy R, et al. Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet. 2009 May 16;373(9676):1693-733.

3. World Health Organization. The World health report : 2002 : Reducing the risks, promoting healthy life. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2002. 248 p.

4. World Bank. Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided. Washington: World Bank; 2012. 106 p.

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Think Global is an initiative project within the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). It aims to develop a network of young medical students who are empowered to act on global health issues; and to equip students with core knowledge and skills, so as to train global leaders. For more, please visit: www.ifmsa.org.

Claudel P-Desrosiers is a 2nd year medical student at University of Montreal. She’s currently acting as the IFMSA Think Global Initiative coordinator and as IFMSA-Quebec President. On twitter: @c_pdesrosiers. 

Charlotte Holm-Hansen is a medical student from Denmark, research assistant in epidemiology and has previously worked in WHO Department of Public Health and Environment for the the Danish ministry of Foreign Affairs. She’s leading IFMSA’s delegation to COP19.

Yassen Tcholakov is a fourth year medical student at the University of Montreal. He holds a Master of International Health from the University of Copenhagen has conducted climate change policy research. He is also member of the Trainee Advisory Committee of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH). On twitter: @yassentch

Nick Watts has a background in medicine and economics. He currently works for the WHO, and the UCL-Lancet Commission on climate change and health.

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