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Dhaka Tribune

Health, medical community unite on ending fossil fuel dependency at COP28

  • Impacts of climate change on well-being, health care systems
  • Letter supported by organizations representing health professionals
  • Letter endorsed by leading medical journals
Update : 02 Nov 2023, 05:21 PM

A letter published on Thursday on behalf of the international health and medical community, addressed to COP28 President-Designate Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber demands that “countries commit to an accelerated, just and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels as the decisive path to health for all” at the annual UN climate conference, taking place in December in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

For the first time in the history of climate talks, there will be an entire day dedicated to health, providing an opportunity to address the direct health impacts of climate change on individual well-being and health care systems, says a press release. 

The letter, supported by organizations that represent 46.3 million health professionals such as the World Medical Association, World Federation of Public Health Association and International Council of Nurses, outlines the critical need to protect human health by reducing dependence on fossil fuels, rapidly investing in clean energy technology and reducing air pollution – all from the perspective that public health will benefit from this rapid transition. 

This letter is also endorsed by leading medical journals such as the British Medical Journal.

Dr Lujain Alqodmani, president, World Medical Association, said: “As representatives of the global medical community, we fully support this letter. We are already seeing the impacts of the climate crisis on our health - heat stress, malnutrition, anxiety, vector-borne diseases, respiratory illnesses due to dirty air to name a few. Extreme weather events have another far reaching impact- hospitals and healthcare centres that are meant to provide cure and relief are often first in the line of fire, with access and infrastructure getting hit. Our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels will only aggravate this further. This is why we think that a rapid transition to clean and equitable forms of energy is a win-win on all fronts.”

Prof Luis Eugenio de Souza, president, World Federation for Public Health Associations, said: “To protect public health from climate change, the health sector must become a leading voice for a rapid, just, and equitable transition away from fossil fuels and toward accessible, affordable, clean, renewable and healthy energy. If we cannot rapidly kick civilization’s fossil fuel addiction, many of our efforts at health development will be in vain.  The health sector cannot adapt its way out of the climate crisis.”

Dr Pam Cipriano, president, International Council of Nurses, said: “When disaster strikes, hospitals and health care centres are often at the forefront. They are also the epicentre of addressing the escalating and noxious effects of climate change that are robbing people of their health. We are seeing more people come into our health care centres, hospitals and clinics complaining of heat exhaustion, respiratory issues and allergies, second hand smoke exposure among other things.” 

“We firmly believe that COP28 is an opportunity to adopt unified solutions and take action to implement mitigation and adaptation policies that also protect our health. This means phasing out ‘dirty energy’ like coal, oil and gas that have negative impacts on health and the environment and prioritising clean energy sources. We must invest in a healthy and climate-safe future – the time to act on this is now.”

“A key demand of the letter is that fossil fuel industry representatives be excluded from climate negotiations. Fossil fuel interests have no place at climate negotiations. Just as the tobacco industry is not allowed to participate in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, it is imperative to safeguard global collaboration on climate progress from the lobbying, disinformation, and delays in favour of industry interests,” Dr Pam added.

Last year’s COP27 saw a record number of representatives for the oil and gas industry in attendance, and this year the number is expected to be higher. 

The letter also mentioned: “A full and rapid phase-out of fossil fuels is the most significant way to address health impacts of climate change. An energy transition that is just and equitable for all unlocking finance is an essential path to deliver this transition.”

This letter was coordinated by Health Care Without Harm and Global Climate and Health Alliance on behalf of the climate and health community. 

Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, said: “Around the world, the impacts of increasing floods, heat waves, fires and droughts drive home the point that the climate crisis is also, profoundly, a health and humanitarian crisis. People are being displaced, suffering and dying due to warming temperatures. 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 actually 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.”

Josh Karliner, director of Global Partnerships, Health Care Without Harm, said: “While it is essential to pursue adaptation and resilience measures in response to climate change, it is crystal clear that the health sector cannot adapt its way out of the climate crisis. Fossil fuel combustion is driving this crisis and its escalating health impacts, therefore to protect people’s health around the world we must end our addiction to coal, oil and gas. In order to protect public health from climate change the health sector urgently needs accelerate the decarbonization of its own fossil fuel dependent operations and supply chain, while joining forces with other sectors of society to foster a rapid and just transition away from coal, oil and gas and toward clean, renewable, healthy energy all around the world.”

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