WHO calls for urgent action on climate, health at COP28 | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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WHO calls for urgent action on climate, health at COP28

By, New Delhi
Nov 28, 2023 08:38 AM IST

Almost 3.5 billion people, nearly half of humanity, live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, WHO said

The impact of climate change on health needs to take centre stage in global negotiations, the World Health Organization urged on Monday, as delegates head to Dubai for the two-week COP28 summit that starts on November 30.

The two-week COP28 summit starts on November 30 (REUTERS)
The two-week COP28 summit starts on November 30 (REUTERS)

“Prioritizing health is not just a choice; it is the foundation of resilient societies,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the global body, said in a statement. “Leaders must deliver in Dubai, providing the strong health outcomes their peoples expect and their economies urgently need.”

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Almost 3.5 billion people, nearly half of humanity, live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, WHO said, quoting from a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s largest collective of climate experts.

Heat-related deaths among those over 65 years of age have risen by 70% worldwide in two decades, WHO data show. Only a dramatic and dedicated effort to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will prevent a future much worse than what we see now, it said in the statement.

Increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and heatwaves, will also strain healthcare infrastructure. Last year’s floods in Pakistan displaced 8 million people and affected 33 million overall. Without bold and immediate action, climate change could displace approximately 216 million people by 2050, forecasts by the World Bank indicate.

The climate crisis is jeopardizing lives and livelihoods, leading to global food systems struggling to sustain a growing population, and compromised water sources compounding the challenges, WHO said. Global temperature rise is also catalyzing a surge in infectious diseases like dengue and cholera, endangering millions, it pointed out.

“As climate change poses an unprecedented challenge to health systems worldwide, it is also imperative that we strengthen our systems to be resilient, low carbon and sustainable,” WHO said. “Failure to act swiftly will render health systems worldwide vulnerable to the overwhelming impacts of climate change.”

Climate change is not a distant threat, it said, adding that it is a present danger affecting human health on multiple fronts. “The health community asserts that climate change is already affecting our health, contributing to the spread of infectious diseases and vector-borne illnesses,” the statement said. “There is an urgent need for negotiators to comprehend that climate change is a direct threat to global health that can no longer be ignored or downplayed.

To reduce negative impacts on health due to the climate emergency, the global health community has stressed the importance of reducing and stopping emissions. As many as 7 million premature deaths annually are attributed to air pollution, according to WHO. Urgent mitigation measures, including transitioning to clean energy sources, are necessary to protect human health and create sustainable outcomes, it said.

Health systems can play a role in reducing emissions by greening the health sector, WHO said. This involves decarbonizing health systems, digitalizing medicine and implementing sustainable practices in hospitals and healthcare facilities to significantly reduce the 5% global emissions attributed to the health sector.

“WHO is working with partners to accelerate electrification of health-care facilities through renewable energies and to harmonize medical supplies and lead a transformative change towards cleaner energy sources, better services and reduced reliance on diesel and gas,” it said.

Recognizing the financial disparity in health systems, the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health, led by WHO, is dedicated to realizing the goals set at the 2021 climate summit in Glasgow by leveraging the collective influence of member states and stakeholders to advance climate-resilient health systems, it said.

“Currently, the (health) sector receives a mere 0.5% of global climate financing. To effectively confront the many challenges ahead – from the ongoing global health crisis to the ever-evolving landscape of medical research and technological advancements – a substantial increase in resources is not only warranted but essential,” WHO said.

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