Global health centre
28 October 2014

Climate change is real – it is a matter for survival for us

“Climate change is real, it is a matter of survival for us” said Ambassador Merewalesi Falemaka from the Permanent Delegation of the Pacific Islands Forum at the Global Health Programme’s public event “Health and Climate Change: What are the governance challenges,” held on 27 October in cooperation with the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva.

For the Pacific Islands, climate change  already has direct and indirect effects on the lives and livelihoods of people in the region. For instance, climate-influenced natural disasters threaten national crop yields which increases dependence on international food aid leading away from healthy, traditional local diets and towards a greater burden of NCDs. These small island states feel the impact of climate change disproportionately considering their low emissions and relative bargaining power on the international stage. For action at the international level, the Ambassador emphasised that synergic alliances must be made in order to ensure their voices are heard and that multilateral action is taken to complement national strategies.

The climate change discussion continues to rise on the global health agenda as more attention is paid to the implications of climate change on health and the many possible health co-benefits of mitigating climate change. Indeed, healthier lifestyles can have convincing climate co-benefits as well. In short, the two are inextricably linked, and improvements in one can lead to benefits in the other, with urgent action needed in both.

At the global level, the World Health Assembly has acknowledge the intrinsic link of health and climate change, but it has been somewhat neglected in other key discussions on climate change, such as at the Copenhagen United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conferences of Parties. Along these lines, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Climate Change and Health Team Leader of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the World Health Organization, stressed stronger linkages between health and international climate change policy are needed to promote sustainable development objectives and have adequate adaptation measures.

One major concern of the event was to highlight the action needed between now and the forthcoming Conference of Parties in Lima in December 2014 and in Paris in 2015. By now, there is more than enough justification for inclusion of health in the deliberations of a climate change agreement but the missing key component is the action itself to do so. Along similar lines, Lisa Brodey, political counselor at the US mission in Geneva, also called attention to the under-consideration of health in sustainable development projects and in climate change adaptation plans. The representative of the Chinese mission, Hongbing Chen, noted that it is important that there is public awareness, but that it is also fundamental to have political commitment from the highest levels of government. Moreover, that government must have the ability and willingness to promote and enforce the policies it puts in place to address climate change.

The adoption of a whole-of-government approach in order to work holistically to address these cross-cutting issues across all sectors should be considered as one action facilitating the integration of health.  Best practices of integrative approaches of health and climate change do exist. Antoine Flauhault, Director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, highlighted the role that health systems have in climate change and promoted the development of green hospitals and methods of reshaping health systems to promote sustainability. In the private sector, businesses are taking steps to reach sustainability goals as outlined by Peter White, Chief Operating Officer at the World Business Council on Sustainable Development. To turn the issue on its head, we should all look at climate change in a more approachable way by focusing on “climate change as a co-benefit of healthy lifestyles”.  


Further information

 Event: Health and Climate Change: What are the governance challenges?