Health must be given higher priority in climate summit say physician leaders

(28.05.2015) Physician leaders are pressing for health issues to be given a greater priority in the United Nations climate change talks.

On the eve of next week’s preparatory discussions in Bonn for the climate change summit to be held in Paris in December, the World Medical Association has urged its 111 national medical associations to make their voices heard.

The WMA, representing 10 million physicians worldwide, has written to its members urging them to write to their national negotiating representatives to emphasise that climate change is the greatest global health challenge of the 21st century.

Physician leaders have serious concerns about the adverse effects of climate change on health, such as disease and injury, increased malnutrition, and premature deaths, particularly among the most vulnerable populations.

In its letter, the WMA says: ‘The coming 21st Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change next December constitutes a decisive opportunity to address these challenges through an effective universal agreement bringing health to the forefront of the global warming debate and mitigating the severe health risks facing the world.’

WMA President Dr. Xavier Deau said he was very concerned that crucial health issues were being ignored in the build up to the summit and time was running out for the voice of the health community to be heard.

He said the negotiations needed to transform energy systems from fossil fuels to renewables. ‘Reducing fossil fuel consumption improves air quality and public health, as well as mitigating climate change. Last week’s resolution by the World Health Assembly on air pollution is a clear and positive step towards the improvement of the lives and health of millions of people who suffer from poor air quality. However, we believe that much more needs to be done globally and domestically to take fully into account the health impact of climate change and to engage the health sector in the process.

‘Improving insulation in homes and buildings can protect people from extreme temperatures and reduce energy consumption. We need to get people to adopt a more active lifestyle. So we need to see an expansion of public transport systems to improve health through increased physical activity and reduced air pollution.

‘All these changes would provide significant economic savings. Climate action that recognises these benefits can improve health, support sustainable development, and advance global equity.

‘National medical associations have a vital part to play in persuading the world that the impact of climate change on health is one of the most significant measures of harm associated with our warming planet.’