World’s health hinges on fossil free future, medics tell COP21

Intro

As the Paris climate summit reaches its halfway point, calls to action representing more than 1,700 health organizations and over 13 million doctors, nurses and other health professionals are urging governments to reach a strong agreement that protects the health of patients and the public. In an unprecedented global medical consensus reflecting support for climate action never seen before, they stress that climate change is a “medical emergency” that could undo 50 years of progress on public health. Air polluted by the same fossil fuels that drive climate change kills 7 million people per year, and global warming contributes to the spread of deadly diseases, extreme temperatures, rising sea levels, as well as food insecurity and violent conflict. With the health risks of climate change undeniable, the World Health Organisation is just one of many medical associations calling for action on climate change. At the same time, the sector is walking the talk and showing some impressive leadership when it comes to cutting emissions and divesting from fossil fuels. Over 8,200 hospitals and health centres in 16 countries have pledged concrete climate action, and numerous doctors and health workers attending the Paris climate summit came together yesterday to share success stories of carbon-reducing and awareness-raising actions already carried out. At today’s Climate and Health Summit in Paris, health sector leaders – backed by the calls from millions of doctors and nurses – are turning to governments to urge a strong Paris agreement which accelerates the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy, in order to best protect the health of their citizens across the world.

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Key Points

  • The national climate action plans put forward by countries throughout the year are already saving lives and protecting health. Pledges made by 180 governments to the UN will have dramatic health and economic benefits, but greater climate ambition – for example pulling the plug on polluting coal plants – can keep global temperatures in check and save millions more lives. The ongoing transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies is already helping build a healthier and safer society, and the most effective way of speeding it up and safeguarding people’s health is by governments in Paris setting a deadline for a full phase out of fossil fuels, and agreeing to regularly review and increase national ambition to reach that goal.

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  • “Climate change is above all a question of public health. Doctors are in the front-line in responding to the harm from climate turmoil. We have a privileged position and a moral duty to protect and promote the population’s health. An imperative is to appeal to professional medical organizations to call on local politicians to limit emissions in our towns.” Dr Patrick Bouet, CNOM President
  • “Thanks to the many physicians who are taking up their responsibility as leaders on climate action, health is moving up the agenda. But it is not yet in the central place that must be achieved. Governments should be hearing more from us on the health and humanitarian disaster that is looming and about the policies needed to protect and promote the health of all our patients.” –
  • Dr Xavier Deau, Immediate Past President of the World Medical Association (WMA)
  • “We are calling for more ambition in the Paris agreement and national actions to address health co-benefits. The health sector organisations should divest from the fossil fuel industry – just as they did from the tobacco industry in previous years,Skander Essafi, International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations
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  • “The Health and Environment Alliance calls for the swift decarbonisation of our economies and energy systems to tackle climate change, reduce pollution and boost health. (7) Energy choices are a key driver for better health and for dealing with the challenge of climate change. By sharing the convincing arguments on an equitable transition to cleaner forms of energy – in Paris and with national governments, in their clinics and hospitals when they go home – doctors can bring health closer to the top of the climate agenda.” –  Genon Jensen, Executive Director of Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)
  • “Most of us have looked at the issues and believe climate change is a serious threat to health. It could be catastrophic.” – Dr. Andy Haines, professor of public health and primary care at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • Climate change, and all of its dire consequences for health, should be at centre-stage, right now, whenever talk turns to the future of human civilizations. After all, that’s what’s at stake.” – Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization
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  • “Doctors in Canada and worldwide are very concerned about the impacts climate change is already having on people’s health. These impacts are direct and indirect; from heatwaves and other extreme weather events to the spread of infectious diseases, loss of livelihoods and increasing food insecurity. At the same time, re-orienting our energy policies towards cleaner, healthier renewable sources can save lives while also reducing emissions. This is why the Canadian Medical Association is joining health organizations worldwide in calling on governments to forge an ambitious deal in Paris in order to protect health.” – Dr Cindy Forbes, President, Canadian Medical Association
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  • “Unchecked, climate change will be devastating for human health. A warmer and more variable climate will lead to increased levels of air pollution, more epidemics of transmittable diseases, and rises in extreme weather events.These will put a huge strain on the world’s health systems and its public services. Health care professionals must be prepared to meet this challenge and change our own approach where we can.” – Cecilia Anim, President of the Royal College of Nursing, UK
  • “The Australian Medical Association believes that the Australian government must show leadership on addressing climate change and encourages governments around the world to plan for the major impacts of climate change, which include extreme weather events, the spread of diseases, disrupted supplies of food and water, and threats to livelihood and security.”
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  • “Now is the time to act and help solve the issue of climate change. If we do not act now and get policies in place, we will be doing the next generation a great disservice. It would be intergenerational theft of the worst kind- we would be robbing our kids of their future.” – Professor Brian Owler, President, Australian Medical Association
  • “Climate change is one of the greatest public health threats we face. We applaud the efforts of world leaders meeting this week to address this challenge. We urge swift agreement on steps to reduce carbon emissions and to strengthen public health systems to safeguard our communities from its negative health impacts. Taking steps to address climate change will also result in reductions of other harmful pollutants that cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease, saving lives and health care costs. We cannot afford to wait. The science is unequivocal. The time to act is now.” – Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association.
  • “Communicating the global health threat posed by climate change and the opportunities afforded by action can stimulate the social and political transformation we need. The health community can bring useful political lessons from public health crises such as tobacco control to show how rogue industries and entrenched interests can be overcome. To strengthen this role, health sector organizations should divest from the fossil fuel industry – as they did from the tobacco industry in previous years – to further stigmatize health-threatening business practices, and erode the social capital that allows them to subvert or undermine legislative attempts to mitigate climate change.” – Karim Abuzied, President, International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations
  • “Humanity has the ingenuity and capacity to convert this challenge of climate change into a unique opportunity to transform global society into an inclusive and compassionate one. Today’s energy choices, fossil fuels or renewables, determine whether our children thrive or endure erratic weather, heat, disasters, food and water shortages. If we care, we’ll choose wisely.” – Dr Liz Hanna, President, Climate and Health Alliance
  • “Lives are already being lost to the direct and indirect effects of climate change, but we expect these numbers to increase exponentially over time. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change will claim a quarter of a million additional lives each year by 2030 from extreme heat, insect-borne diseases, diarrhea and under-nutrition. It is essential that we take dramatic steps now to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to prepare for the changes that are coming. We also believe that many of the measures that are needed to combat climate change, such as closing coal-fired power plants, investing in public transit and cycling infrastructure, and promoting renewable energies, will produce more immediate health benefits for the regions in which the investments are made” – Dr. Kim Perrota, President, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE)
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  • “As a circumpolar nation, Canada is warming at twice the global rate. Where I live, we are already seeing health effects – our majority-aboriginal population is witnessing major changes in their landscape that is making it more difficult for them to hunt for increasingly stressed aboriginal land-based food like caribou, and the risk of falling through unreliable ice is increasing. Canadian academics have told us that it would be possible for Canada to have 100% renewable energy by 2035 and to reduce emissions by 80% by mid-century. We must move as quickly as we can towards this low-carbon way of life. As a doctor – I’m excited about the health benefits we’ll see in that low-carbon world. Thinking about health helps us think about people, and I suspect it is the missing key to put countries onto the same page and to unlock the true potential of this moment in time, and to set us on a path towards healthy people and a healthy planet.” – Dr. Courtney Howard, Emergency Physician and Board Member, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
  • “We must scale-up our work all around the world, so that protecting public health from climate change becomes embedded in the health sector’s DNA.” – Gary Cohen, President and Co-founder, Health Care Without Harm
  • “Tackling climate change must prioritise quitting coal because this will also reduce many health problems like heart disease and lung diseases such as asthma. We call on governments to stop supporting coal and instead pursue healthy energy choices” – Genon K. Jensen, Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance
  • “The health effects of climate change increase as the planet’s fever increases; climate and health are both already under stress. For example, millions of children are at risk of becoming environmental refugees due to climate-related disasters which are increasing across the planet. This is why we, as health professionals, are calling for governments to act now to tackle climate change and protect our children’s health.’ – Dr. Peter Van Den Hazel, Paediatrician and President, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)
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  • “A strong climate agreement is also a vital health agreement. Actions to reduce climate change offer immense, immediate benefits to health through cleaner air, improved housing and active travel. We have the opportunity to save lives and reduce healthcare costs now, while safeguarding our future.” – Dr. Frances Mortimer, Doctor and Medical Director of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, Oxford, UK
  • “As we wrestle with the challenges of a climate-changed world, we are finding strength and inspiration together for a better, healthier, low-carbon future” – Fiona Armstrong, Executive Director, Climate and Health Alliance
  • “Health Impact Assessment should be taken as an absolute imperative before launching any industrial enterprise that may have its effects on health.” – Dr Bayazit Ilhan, President, Turkish Medical Association
  • “Paris provides a leadership moment for health care – an opportunity to take on perhaps the greatest threat to public health of our time. By transitioning to clean, renewable energy, health care can help the world kick its addiction to fossil fuels and issue a prescription for a healthy planet.”  – Josh Karliner, Global Projects Director for Health Care Without Harm

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  • COP21 is a decisive moment for our #climate and our #health. Sign the @WHO Call To Action now: http://www.who.int/globalchange/global-campaign/call-for-action/en/
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  • Doctors are standing up for our #climate & our #health via @TheRACP’s Doctors for Climate Action campaign. Will you? http://doctorsforclimateaction.org/
  • A strong global climate change deal is a vital public health agreement. Here’s why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrwqwuNNX4I
  • #Climate change threatens the foundations of health: a strong agreement at #COP21 is vital to protecting our #health http://climateandhealthalliance.org/cop21
  • Leading #health professionals are demanding that governments take urgent #climate action: http://climateandhealthalliance.org/cop21pic.twitter.com/pOqvtysJ5f
  • The national #climate commitments already adopted by ~180 governments will have dramatic #health & economic benefits http://climateandhealthalliance.org/cop21
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