Climate Change and Health Policy Assessment Project
Governments unprepared for the health impacts of climate change: global survey
A new report by the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) reveals many countries are lagging in policies to protect their populations from the adverse health impacts of climate change. Respondents from 35 countries completed the global survey, which revealed more than half of respondent countries (51%) had no national plan to adequately protect the health of their citizens from climate change.
WFPHA President Mengistu Asnake said: “The health impacts of climate change is one of the most significant public health risks facing the global community. While there are some encouraging signs, this benchmark survey reveals many gaps in policy at the national level to respond. We encourage all national governments to develop national climate and health plans to ensure their citizens are not unprotected from the major health risks from climate change.”
The WFPHA survey found both developed and developing nations lacked comprehensive national climate change action plans, however vulnerable developing nations appear to be less prepared, with 70% of respondent countries reporting that either their national climate policies did not address health or there was no national climate action plan in existence. Positive examples do exist, with case studies from US and South Korea featured in the report, which the authors say offer insights into both mitigation and adaptation strategies. The majority of respondent countries (77.1%) have no comprehensive identification of health risks of climate change projections for their citizens and 65.7% had done little towards identifying vulnerable populations and infrastructure, developing public health adaptation responses, assessing coping capacity or gaps in knowledge.
Dr Peter Orris, Co-Chair, Environmental Working Group, WFPHA said: “This survey reveals we are failing, as a global community, to tap into the benefits that climate action will bring for nations, for communities and for individual health and well-being.”
A recent Health and Climate Commission published in the international medical journal The Lancet suggests tackling climate change could be the “greatest opportunity of the 21st century” to improve health across the globe, highlighting that many strategies to respond to climate change also bring significant co-benefits for health, offering significant savings for healthcare budgets as well as increased productivity by reducing the burden of ill-health. A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found carbon reduction policies can lead to big savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.
The WFPHA report’s recommendations call for health protection and promotion to be a central principle in global climate policies being negotiated under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change. It calls on all governments to develop national climate and health plans, addressing both adaptation to unavoidable warming and mitigation [to prevent further warming], and for health professional associations globally to make it a priority to raise awareness of the issue.
“The message from the global public health community is very clear,” Dr Asnake said. “We must act now to secure public health, and reap the benefits, for health budgets and the global community. Designing policies and programs at national and global level to protect people from climate change provides an immediate global health opportunity to reduce the burden of illness, while delivering a more stable climate in the longer term.”
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The Working Group
The WFPHA Environmental Health Work Group aims to influence international policy on environmental health by bringing environmental health issues to the public health community and a public health approach to the environmental advocacy community. Through work with partners including WHO, UNEP, SAICM, Healthcare without Harm, World Medical Association, IPEN, Global Network For Incineration Alternatives, Toxics Link, Sustainlabour, the Pesticide Action Network, and others the Work Group focus attention on human health effects of environmental hazards and help shape global environmental health and protection policies.
The Environmental Working Group invites new Members, representatives of national public health associations, individual public health professionals, and students. Meetings will take place by phone/computer. Activities currently planned for the next year will include policy development for WFPHA, participation in the Strategic Approach To International Chemicals Management in Health Care of UNEP, Mercury treaty negotiations and advocacy for decreased use in health care, and advocacy for improving children’s environmental health in collaboration with WHO.
COP21 The Climate Summit in Paris
As reported by diverse scientific and health research organizations (including the World Health Organization), climate change poses a central and increasing threat to the health of the world’s people in this century. However, little was known about how national governments were planning for this unprecedented public health challenge. To address this gap, the Group developed plans for an online survey of actions by national governments for completion by health non-governmental organizations from each country. This quickly brought support of the Climate and Health Alliance, Health Care Without Harm, and the Public Health Association of Australia. It was conducted during August and September 2015 by WFPHA with support from the World Medical Association and its Young Doctors Network.
National public health associations, medical associations, and other health professional organizations responded, providing information on the actions of thirty-five governments (15 developed and 20 developing nations). The respondent countries are spread across the globe, with six continents represented, and include USA, Canada, Brazil, Spain, China, Australia, Japan and the EU.
The survey revealed a lack of climate-health preparedness, with more than half of respondent countries (51%) having no national plan to protect their citizens from the health impacts of climate change in their countries. Twelve (35%) countries have yet not developed policies for long-range climate change and its impact on health and 13 (37%) countries did not have any policies for public health adaptation.
The majority of respondent countries (77.1%) have no comprehensive identification of health risks of climate change projections for their citizens and 65.7% had done little towards identifying vulnerable populations and infrastructure, developing public health adaptation responses, assessing coping capacity or gaps in knowledge. Some positive examples bucking the trend include Taiwan and Lithuania, reporting comprehensive climate change action plans with both mitigation and adaptation strategies, along with climate-health risk surveillance, and early warming systems for health risks from extreme weather.
The report was released in late November and received prominent attention during a number of health related events in Paris during the Climate Summit of 30 November to 11 December 2015. WFPHA was represented during the Paris events through leadership of the Working Group both at the Conference of the Parties itself and at many of the side events organized by several of our collaborating organizations. The Paris agreement signed on Saturday 12 December 2015 is binding and commits signatories to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. The more ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius goal is also named as a serious aspiration. The agreement includes a commitment to a long-term goal to bring emissions down to zero and a regular review of national commitments every five years to check progress. This review mechanism, which will start in 2018, is vital if the 2-degree target is to be reached.
WFPHA welcomed and agreed to participate with these groups beyond Paris based on three pillars of mitigation within health care provision, building resilience of health care institutions, and providing public health leadership to civic society with respect to the impact of climate change on the world emphasizing the poorest countries and communities.
The Paris Platform for Healthy Energy
The Healthy Energy Initiative is a collaborative effort with partners in eight countries to address the health impacts of energy choices. Recognizing that more than 7 million people die every year from air pollution, much of it related to fossil fuel combustion, particularly coal, the Health Energy Initiative seeks to engage the health sector in advocating for a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy.
To this end, WFPHA endorsed the Paris Platform for Healthy Energy as a way to reflect this common agenda across borders and to engage ever greater numbers of health sector actors in this advocacy. In this way we are continuing the joint efforts begun 4 years ago when the WFPHA and the South African PHA with the WHO, World Medical Association, and others initiated these efforts at the climate summit in Durban SA.
News and latest reports
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Minimata Mercury Treaty is Signed (Report to WFPHA)
The Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted on Thursday, 10 October 2013 at 11:11 am in Kumamoto, Japan, following decades of increased awareness regarding the toxicity of mercury and mercury-related compounds. The WFPHA, pursuant to its policy Mercury pollution, participated in the intergovernmental negotiations preparing this convention as a professional Non Governmental Organization collaborating closely with the World Health Organization, Health Care Without Harm, and the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE).
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