The implications of COP15

As we take stock of the implications of COP15, one lesson is clear. If we are to maintain and expand public and political support to act on climate change, we need the headlines to be more about what we are aiming to achieve, and less about the process. We need to be clear that this is about a better future for humanity.

In Copenhagen, WHO outlined an additional proposal; to move from talking about “inconvenient” to “convenient” truths. WHO has also assembled and reported on the evidence that climate change endangers health. The 1992 UNFCCC itself is based on such warnings, to avoid “adverse effects”; on human health and wellbeing, on the natural environment, and on economies.

But the time has come for more positive messages and for climate change to be seen as a valuable investment in a more sustainable, fairer and healthier future than a painful cost.

From the health perspective, we see a range of good news stories. In April the US Environment Protection Agency decided that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gas emissions could endanger human health and well-being.

The well-attended WHO side event at COP15 showed a committed interest in the issue and WHO is actively involving the health sector in responding to the climate change challenge.

From COP15 we need to make clear that we support the most effective polices, informed by the best science, and, most importantly, guided by our values. In WHO’s view, the values that guide our response to climate change are the same as those that guide our work in public health; the drive to improve lives, protect the weakest, and enhance fairness. The health community is a willing partner in addressing this challenge.

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