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.
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.