The United Nations has listened to the concerns of villagers in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, where climate change is affecting their low-lying land. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The United Nations has listened to the concerns of villagers in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, where climate change is affecting their low-lying land. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Climate change will bring health crises, concludes summit

International leaders at the first ever global summit on climate and health in December issued a declaration and call to action, warning that climate change will magnify existing health crises if governments do not act.

Meeting in Durban, South Africa, health professionals, public health advocates and health policy makers from more than 30 countries called on national delegations at climate change negotiations to take bold action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect and promote public health. 

Their Declaration on Climate on Health said that climate change is likely to bring increases in illnesses such as cholera, malaria and dengue. It will also affect agricultural production and food security, and bring extreme weather events and floods. 

However, it says, there is strong evidence that action on climate change can bring significant and immediate benefits to health – for example lowering greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel will reduce air pollution that adversely affects the health of millions of people around the world.

“Governments can commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that is equitable, as well as economically and ecologically viable,” says the declaration. “Such effective and immediate action to mitigate climate change would protect and advance global public health.”

But without agreement, the declaration states, climate change will deepen health inequalities.

“The health community has spoken with one voice,” said Maria Neira, head of the World Health Organization’s delegation to climate change negotiations. “We need urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop the escalation of health risks; proper support for more climate-resilient health systems; and smarter, more sustainable development to gain the many health benefits of a green economy.  Failure to act would put people’s lives at unacceptable risk and miss a huge opportunity to protect and promote health.”