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WHO & UNDP launch unprecedented global project

WHO, along with UNDP, launch in 2010 the first global project on public health adaptation to climate change. This series of pilot projects aim to increase adaptive capacity of national health system institutions, including field practitioners, to respond to climate-sensitive health risks.

Executed by Ministries of Health and other relevant national partners in Barbados, Bhutan, China, Fiji, Kenya, Jordan, and Uzbekistan, the experiences and lesson sharing from this project will significantly contribute to identification of best practices to address the health risks associated with climate variability and change.

All country projects share four aims; to enhance systems of early warning and early action; build capacity of national actors; pilot specific health risk reduction interventions; and document and share lessons learned in addressing the health risks associated with climate change in their area.

This global project addresses a wide range of health concerns as, collectively, the seven countries represent common health risks associated with climate change in small island developing states (SIDS) highland, water-stressed, and urban contexts.

For example, China will focus on strengthening early warning and response systems to extreme heat in urban settings; whereas Barbados and Jordan focus on diarrheal disease control through safety of wastewater reuse as a response to water scarcity; Kenya and Bhutan address vector borne disease risks in the highlands; and Fiji and Bhutan highlight actions for community awareness and preparedness for flooding.

This WHO/UNDP project will receive US$4.5 million for activities from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) as well as leverage significant co-financing and in-kind support from 2010–2014.

Further information can be found at the WHO website.
And UNDP Adaptation Learning Mechanism, under Public Health Case Studies.

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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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Humanitarian agencies call for urgent climate action

On the first day of the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, a coalition of humanitarian agencies, including WHO and other United Nations organizations, Red Cross/Red Crescent and nongovernmental organizations, jointly emphasized the urgency of taking prompt adaptation action on climate change and called for a strong and binding global climate change agreement which protects the poorest and most vulnerable.

WHO, along with the other members of the Committee, is technically an observer of the climate change talks. WHO role is to support and encourage the negotiators from the Member States to ensure that health impacts of climate change are addressed in a strong climate change agreement. As with all such occasions, the inclusion of a word or a phrase in a sentence makes all the difference. In this case it could facilitate countries’ efforts to prioritize new health initiatives and health system reform in their plans to combat climate change and adopt mitigation measures.

At the talks, on the opening day, the IASC group made a joint statement at the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action under the Convention, as follows:

Inter-Agency Standing Committee observer statement at the COP15 Opening Day on 7 December 2009

  • On behalf of the agencies of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, including the United Nations, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and the nongovernmental organizations, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak at this Opening day of COP15
  • As a coalition of humanitarian actors we have joined forces to raise awareness of the humanitarian impacts of climate change and to call for urgent adaptation action to climate change
  • Climate change is already affecting millions of people worldwide every year through increasingly frequent, intense and non-seasonal floods, storms and droughts. Those that suffer the most are the poorest and most vulnerable in risk-prone countries. These people lack the resources to adapt to, or cope with, the rapidly changing climate patterns
  • Humanitarian agencies are already seeing increased food insecurity, public health threats, migration and displacement, and other related consequences. We are deeply concerned with how we can urgently help the most vulnerable adapt to their changing reality
  • Current national and international humanitarian systems do not have the capacity to respond to increased demand from climate related impacts and therefore require additional resources
  • We need a strong and binding global climate change agreement, which protects the poorest and most vulnerable. Such an agreement must help us avert or reduce the worst humanitarian consequences of climate change.
  • We must also look beyond Copenhagen to the critical early measures, commitments and resources needed now to help national governments help their people adapt
  • Disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and response are vital front-line defenses for vulnerable communities, especially in risk-prone parts of the world. While humanitarian organizations will continue to respond to weather and climate related crisis and disasters, we can also help to reduce the impacts of extreme weather and climate change through disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness systems.
  • Immediate action is urgent and daunting. We call on you to come to an agreement in Copenhagen that will give better protection of those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.



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Public health impacts of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Different mitigation strategies are likely to have different implications for health. For example, how much would a move to low carbon sources of power improve public health by reducing air pollution? What could be the health benefits of encouraging people to cycle and walk rather than take the car? Could improved biomass cook stoves in developing countries have impacts on child and maternal health as well as greenhouse gas emissions?

In the first major study of its kind, an international team of researchers in collaboration with WHO, have been modelling the health effects of different policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in high and low-income countries. Case studies focus on four key sectors: power generation, transport, household energy, and food and agriculture. The study findings will be published in a special issue in the Lancet in November 2009.

The results will be launched at events in London and Washington on 25 November 2009.

For further information, please consult our website.

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