Ever since the first IPCC assessment report in 1990, the international community has known of the health dangers that climate change imposes on humans. From increasing rates and ranges of water borne and vector borne diseases, frequencies of natural disasters, and exposure to climate pollutants, people have been suffering from the immediate effects of climate change. However, the UNFCCC has been quiet on this issue. Despite acknowledging the “deleterious effects . . . on health health and welfare” from the adverse effects of climate change in Article 1 of the UNFCCC, the UNFCCC has yet to create substantial progress in addressing the issue. Moreover, UNFCCC Article 4.1(f) mandates the parties to conduct impact assessments with a view to minimize the adverse effects of climate change on the public health. Focusing primarily on mitigation efforts, the UNFCCC has been set on completing long-term goals of decreasing carbon emissions to stop the global temperature average from increasing to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, this narrow sight forward has left resources dry for efforts to adapt to the adverse health effects from climate change. According to statistics, only 15 percent of INDCs submitted included health and only 0.5 percent of funds disbursed by the Global Environmental Facility, the Adaptation Fund, the Pilot Programme for Climate and Resilience, the MDG Achievement Fund, and the Green Climate Fund went to health projects. That is, until today.
On December 5, 2018, a side event sponsored by the UNFCCC and WHO revealed a special report by WHO: COP24 Special Report Health & Climate Change. During COP23, the Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama called for WHO to develop a report on health and climate change to be delivered at COP24. At this event, a panel consisting of members from UNFCCC, WHO, WMO, Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), Health Care Without Harm, and International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) delivered the report.
AOSIS Chief Negotiator, Amjad Abdulla, held opening remarks, reminding the audience that the adverse effects of climate change is already upon us. There is a dire need to build facilities that can withstand the dangers of climate change. If countries are not resilient, then they will succumb to the devastating effects of climate change. The air pollution problem that kills 7 million people a year must be resolved. The UNFCCC has pushed for a transition into a low-carbon economy. However, Mr. Abdulla stressed that the transition cannot be just for a low-carbon economy, but also for an air pollutant free economy. According to Dr. Kumar, a surgeon from New Delhi, hazardous air pollutants from fossil fuel emissions must be stopped or humanity will become the fossils that we burn. However, there are also implications to switching to a renewable economy. According to Elena Manaenkova, the WMO Secretary General, the connection between air quality and climate change is complicated. Sometimes, solutions that promote air quality is detrimental to the efforts to address climate and vice versa. Therefore, there is a need to carefully strategize every solution to ensure there is synergy to promote both air quality and lowering carbon emissions.
With the information provided by WHO about health and climate change, there are hopes that the UNFCCC changes the way it has advocated for health and climate change. The report provided nine recommendations which COP may welcome to provide a safe, prosperous journey to a low carbon world.