Critical WHO health and climate change conference kicks off today

26 August 2014

LONDON: Today the World Health Organization kicks off a three-day conference focused on the critical task of reducing nations' health vulnerabilities to climate change.

Climate issues are often associated with in-depth analysis and complex graphs that seem to confine the matter to academia. But in reality, it is something that directly impacts everyone, even in the most intimate sphere of all: our own good health.

The Medical Journal of Australia recently published an open letter warning “current climate trends, driven by global warming, threaten the basis of future economic prosperity, regional political stability and human health”. And as is the case with so many issues, such climate-related health impacts particularly affect poorer communities, who are more exposed to direct and indirect threats.

In order to spur a global, immediate response to prevent the most dangerous health impacts of climate change, the World Health Organization (WHO) has organized a three-day conference in Geneva, Switzerland. “The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health,” says Dr Margaret ChanWHO Director-General. “Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.”

During the summit, scientific experts and policymakers aim to strengthen health system resilience to climate risks and promote health while mitigating climate change

“Reducing climate change can yield substantial and immediate health benefits” explains Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “The most powerful example is air pollution, which in 2012 was responsible for 7 million deaths - one in eight of all deaths worldwide. There is now solid evidence that mitigating climate change can greatly reduce this toll,” she adds.  

Two parallel workshops will discuss the role of the health sector and how it can spotlight opportunities to improve public health in cities, as according to a WHO report, “Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health.

As part of the WHO workplan that since 2009 aims to ensure health is properly represented in the climate change agenda, the conference will coordinate reviews of the scientific evidence linking the two issues. But the overarching goal remains to assist countries in assessing and reducing their health vulnerabilities to climate change.

There is an urgent need and much benefit to be gained from ensuring health issues are integrated into climate and energy-related risk assessments and decision-making,” underlines Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager, The Climate Group. “Failure to do so will come at a cost to effective and efficient policy, economic productivity and, most importantly, the wellbeing and health of citizens around the world.”

In the US, the National Medical Association – the association of African American physicians – also released a survey last month that further shows how climate change is impacting health, in particular their own patients. Authors attest: “Nearly all survey respondents think climate change is relevant to direct patient care (88%) and that it has harmed people in their own city or county over the last decade (86%). Most respondents also report that climate change is affecting the health of their own patients a great deal or a moderate amount (61%).”

The correlation between health and climate change will also be discussed during Climate Week NYC, which will host several events on this important topic. One event in particular will see panelists and an expert audience of IPCC authors, health professionals, business leaders and social entrepreneurs explore issues around climate and health in the Wellcome Trust’s Sustaining Health dialogue, which takes place on September 22.

For a full list of Climate Week NYC events, please visit

Wherever you are in the world, get involved by following the conversation on social media using #CWNYC.

You can also see our Climate Week NYC media resources for press releases, contacts and more info.

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By Ilario D'Amato

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