This is why health must be embedded in COP process.

by Amref Health Africa

What you need to know:

  • In just a month, global leaders will meet in Dubai for the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28), which has given prominence to Health for the first time by setting aside a day to discuss its linkage to climate change.
  • Experts, however, say Health needs to get to the official agenda in future conferences.

Scientists and health workers worldwide have asked global leaders to treat the climate crisis as a global health emergency and protect people’s health from its impact.

This was in three independent joint statements, one as an open letter written by global family doctors, another published by scientists in different journals, and the latest written by health workers to the COP28 Presidency. They all emphasised having the crises – health and climate – treated as one and not separately.

“This overall environmental crisis is now so severe as to be a global health emergency. The world is responding to the climate and nature crises as if they were separate challenges. This is a dangerous mistake,” wrote the scientists.

“As frontline health workers, we are increasingly responding to health emergencies triggered by the climate crisis. Yet in the face of increasing harm and suffering, new fossil fuel resources continue to be developed, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise,” said the family doctors. The healthcare workers insisted that ending dependence on fossil fuels would improve the health prospects of future generations and save lives.

“We call on the COP28 Presidency and the leaders of all countries to commit to an accelerated, just and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels as the decisive path to health for all,” said the signatories of the letter, including Amref’s boss Gitahi Githinji.

In just a month, global leaders will meet in Dubai for the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28), which has given prominence to Health for the first time by setting aside a day to discuss its linkage to climate change. Experts, however, say Health needs to get to the official agenda in future conferences. In their letter, the scientists explained that the climate crisis affects human health and nature.

“This indivisible planetary crisis will have major effects on health due to the disruption of social and economic systems—shortages of land, shelter, food, and water, exacerbating poverty, leading to mass migration and conflict,” they explained. “Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, air pollution and the spread of infectious diseases are some of the major health threats exacerbated by climate change,” they added.

“My one hope for COP is that, we just don’t talk to ourselves, we bring people in from the communities most impacted and amplify those voices to ensure that they are architecting the solutions to their challenges and B, it doesn’t feel like it is a separate day, everyone should say that this is an intersection that is critical and will cost us too much if we ignore and avoid and from then it won’t be a one-time thing,” said Desta Lakew, the group director of partnerships and external affairs at Amref Health Africa, Kenya.

Desta spoke at the recently concluded Grand Challenges Annual Meeting (GCAM2023) in Dakar, Senegal. Nutrition is also an area of concern for the health workers. “Good nutrition is underpinned by diversity in the variety of foods, but there has been a striking loss of genetic diversity in the food system,” they explained.

Human activities like deforestation and changes in land use reduce the chances of people interacting with nature and lead to new zoonotic diseases that could result in pandemics.

“People losing contact with the natural environment and declining biodiversity loss have been linked to increases in non-communicable, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and metabolic, allergic, and neuropsychiatric disorders. For Indigenous people, caring for and connecting with nature is especially important for their health. Nature has also been an important source of medicines, and thus reduced diversity also constrains the discovery of new medicines,” explained the scientists.

Even as global leaders keep meeting for climate, biodiversity and desertification conferences, implementing the agreed outcomes by specific countries has remained a hurdle.

“Many commitments made at COPs have not been met. This has allowed ecosystems to be pushed further to the brink, greatly increasing the risk of arriving at “tipping points”— abrupt breakdowns in the functioning of nature. If these events were to occur, the impacts on health would be globally catastrophic,” they worry.

They are asking global leaders to make an international declaration before next year’s World Health Organization Assembly in May. “Health professionals must be powerful advocates for both restoring biodiversity and tackling climate change for the good of health. Political leaders must recognise both the severe threats to health from the planetary crisis and the benefits that can flow to health from tackling the crisis.26 But, first, we must recognise this crisis for what it is: a global health emergency,” said the scientists.

Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, said at current levels of warming, health and humanitarian systems are already at their limits. “While we welcome the COP28 Presidency making health a focus of the negotiations – putting the focus squarely on what climate change means for people’s lives – every government must put people’s health and well-being first, starting to fully phase out fossil fuels – thereby addressing the key drivers of global warming,” she said.

Article first published on

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