The links between climate variables, health, and sustainable development are undeniable, and great gains can be made if these interlinkages are brought to the policy foreground. To address the topic, the World Health Organization hosted the first-ever Conference on Health and Climate from 27-29 August 2014 in Geneva with the expressed goals of enhancing country health resilience to climate change, supporting health-promoting climate change policies, and identifying health benefits associated with reducing climate pollutants.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan remarked that in 2012, exposure to air pollution killed close to seven million people worldwide, making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk. She went on to stress that many of the world’s epidemic-prone diseases, including malaria, cholera, dengue, and bacterial meningitis have transmission cycles that are profoundly shaped by conditions of heat and humidity and patterns of rainfall, making them increasingly sensitive to climate variability.
Professor Ilona Kickbusch, Director of the Global Health Programme at the Graduate Institute, lent her expertise in health promotion and global health innovation to the parallel session “Promoting Health While Mitigating Climate Change.” Her discussion focused on the global food system and she warned about the unsustainability of current consumption and production trends. Professor Kickbusch highlighted three priority issues: meat consumption, local waste management and consumption of sweet soft drinks. Her suggestions for tackling these issues included taxing waste in fast food outlets; water dispensing that does not use water bottles; zoning laws to limit fast food restaurant density; and empowering local communities to engage for healthier food production and consumption.
Going forward, the WHO Secretariat will produce a final outcome document of the conference that will be used to contribute to the 2014 Climate Summit taking place in New York in September 2014, the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 21), the post-2015 development agenda discussions, the 2nd Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015, and the UN Summit on Climate Change to be held in Paris next year.
The Global Health Programme will host a half-day public event on health and climate change on 27 October 2014 at the Maison de la Paix as a follow-up of this WHO Conference and in preparation of the forthcoming related conferences.