WHO should declare climate change a public health emergency

The World Health Organization (WHO) should consider revising the narrow disease-specific definition of public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) to include climate change, says new report by Public Policy Projects (PPP).

The new report, chaired by Deputy Mayor of London Seb Dance, showcases the devastating impacts of climate change on people’s health.

According to the WHO, climate change is the single greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.

Ahead of COP26, more than 45 million health workers from across the world wrote an open letter to world leaders calling for urgent climate action to protect people’s health.

Over 200 health journals worldwide have also urged world leaders to take action to keep global temperature increases below 1.5C and protect health.

Climate change also threatens to reverse many of the advances in global health over the past 50 years and further widen existing health inequalities.

Although the health impacts of climate change are already unfolding across every continent and are causing thousands of deaths every year, PPP’s report, The climate crisis and its health impacts, argues that the relationship between climate change and health is still widely underappreciated by policymakers and the public.

white and black ship on sea under white clouds

Seb Dance, Chair of the report, said: ‘Every day we take action to mitigate damage to ourselves. We avoid certain foods and limit our intake of harmful substances. We exercise and quit smoking and subscribe to gyms and nutritional programmes where we can to help guide us down a healthier path. But none of us can avoid climate change, much less those with the fewest resources for whom, as with every public health crisis, the options to mitigate are not always readily available. It is time to put a health warning on the biggest global challenge we face: climate change kills.’

The PPP report also calls for national governments to develop effective strategies, as part of UNFCCC’s National Adaptation Plans (NAP), to identify, address and review the health impacts of climate change in their countries.

The report not only highlights the intimate link between climate change and human health but also illustrates the actions that can be taken to remedy this health crisis. The Climate Crisis and its Health Impacts outlines a series of solutions that governments and policymakers can implement to mitigate the health consequences of climate change. 

Commenting on the report, Elaine Mulcahy, Director of UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, said: ‘The recent IPCC report warned of the grave threat of climate change to human wellbeing and planetary health. Already, many of the health impacts of climate change are being felt causing thousands of deaths every year with overlapping challenges of increased exposure to heatwaves and heat-related mortality, increased risk of food, water and vector borne diseases, increased mental health challenges, and the devastating consequences of air pollution. We need to move quickly to address these challenges to protect health, while also realising the significant potential health benefits that can be achieved through the actions we take.’

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier


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