Global campaign kicks off to put health in climate talks

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  • The global campaign aims for a united health sector at Paris climate conference
  • Health professionals asked to help communities adapt to climate change effects
  • The group cites benefits of mitigation and physical activity on people’s health

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[SYDNEY] Dubbed “Our Climate, Our Health”, a global campaign kicked off last October 12 in more than a dozen countries to unite the health sector under one banner in the lead-up to the Paris climate conference this December.

“The campaign is calling on health professionals to communicate and understand the profound impacts that climate change is having on human health, to help communities adapt to the worst of these effects, and to propagate the health benefits of mitigation,” says Nick Watts, coordinator of the London-based Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) which is spearheading the campaign.

Several physical and online events, including declarations from different health organisations across the world, will culminate in a health and climate change summit scheduled for 5 December in Paris, Watts tells SciDev.Net during a phone interview.

The campaign joins various organisations in Australia and New Zealand such as the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the New Zealand Health Professionals Alliance, the newly created Doctors for Climate Action with the WHO and other organisations around the world in calling for health to be central to climate negotiations and policy.

They note that climate change poses serious health threats including illness and injury from extreme weather events such as heatwaves, cyclones, floods and wildfires, food and water shortages, outbreaks of infectious diseases, loss of livelihoods, migration and conflict.

The campaign calls on governments to make health the central focus of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets.

Alexandra Macmillan, co-convenor of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council, tells SciDev.Net they are calling for a zero carbon dioxide target for 2050, with an intermediate target of 40 per cent below the 1990 levels by 2030. The New Zealand government has announced a target of 30 per cent below the 2005 GHG emission levels by 2030.

“We need to rapidly reduce our other GHG emissions over that period, including methane from agriculture,” says Macmillan, a public health physician and senior lecturer at the University of Otago.

“Health impacts are an important way to understand the impacts of climate change”, says Barry Coates, climate campaigner with Sustainable Initiative Aotearoa, referring to the increasing risks from storms, flooding, heatwaves, droughts, diseases and sea level rise.

“An emissions reduction target of 40 per cent below 1990 levels would be a fair target for New Zealand in relation to other OECD countries, and possible to achieve through sound policy that creates co-benefits, such as improved quality of life in cities, better air quality, improved health and opportunities for business in growing clean tech markets,” adds Coates.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.