Protecting and promoting health in the Paris climate agreement

Over the last 12 hours, the World Health Organization and members of the Global Climate and Health Alliance urge negotiators to strengthen health wording in the Paris Agreement.

A new draft text of the Paris climate agreement was released yesterday. Over the past 10 days, countries have worked co-operatively to produce a strong draft agreement to limit emissions. Now the Ministers are back to sort out the more than 900 options for wording – the devil is in the detail.

The global health community are here in force, making their voices heard about the risk that climate change poses for people’s health in low, middle and high income countries, as well as the importance of accounting for health costs and benefits in committing to climate action. Well designed climate action would reduce the global burden of disease from a variety of illnesses, including lung disease, obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and road injuries.

The importance of health was recognised early on in the agreement, with language about protecting health, promoting health and health benefits of climate action scattered throughout the text.

Protecting health in coastal cities and small island states and flood-vulnerable countries also requires an agreement to limit global warming to an average of well under 2 degrees, so the presence of a 1.5 degree target in the draft came as an exciting surprise. The payment of compensation by high emitting developed countries for loss and damages in developing countries is also an important aspect for health and fairness. Without these payments, those countries who have unfairly suffered health impacts of climate change will not be able to recover from those impacts or respond to future events. This compensation is needed to improve the resilience of health infrastructure.

Over the last 3 days some of this language has weakened or disappeared entirely, which is why last night health professionals made a special call to negotiators. The World Health Organization, the Global Climate and Health Alliance and its worldwide members, including OraTaiao, the NZ Climate and Health Council, pressed for maintaining statements about the right to health and the recognition of health benefits of climate action. Health organizations are also urging governments to choose a 1.5 degree warming limit and make a real commitment to compensating developing countries for their loss and damages.


Media Spokesperson at COP21:   Dr Alex Macmillan, Mob. 021 322 625
Alex Macmillan ([email protected]) is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago and Co-Convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

About Climate Change and Health
Information about climate change and health in New Zealand is available in the following open access paper from the 2014 NZ Medical Journal:
Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action

A new report summarising why COP21 is important to health from the Global Climate and Health Alliance:
Health and climate at COP21 and beyond.

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