#COP21: Unprecedented Global Medical Consensus: Action on Climate Needed for Our Patients

98

Today, an unprecedented alliance of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals from every part of the health sector have come together calling on governments to reach a strong agreement at the UN climate negotiations that protects the health of patients and the public.

Together, they will announce the signatories of declarations representing over 1,700 health organizations, 8,200 hospitals and health facilities, and 13 million health professionals, bringing the global medical consensus on climate change to a level never seen before.

The World Health Organization recently launched its first ever Call to Action on climate change, recognising the critical importance of COP21 for the future of global health. Other leading health actors have mobilised around this moment, with declarations led by organisations such as the World Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. The declarations call for urgent action by governments to protect and promote health, and represents a firm commitment by health professionals to engage in the response to climate change.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization, said: “Climate change, and all of its dire consequences for health, should be at centre-stage, right now, whenever talk turns to the future of human civilizations. After all, that’s what’s at stake.”

New analyses from the World Medical Association and the World Federation of Public Health Associations demonstrate that, whilst health systems and governments are beginning to take action on the health implications of climate change, countries’ policies to date fall far short of what is required. At this national level, a recent survey assessing health system preparedness found that a majority of respondent countries lacked a comprehensive national plan to protect their citizens from the health impacts of climate change.

A 2015 review of the links between health and climate change published in The Lancet – one of the world’s most influential and authoritative medical journals – revealed that failing to act now will lead to a reversal of the last 50 years of gains in public health. A business-as-usual approach will also fail to secure the substantial health benefits of climate action, with a transition away from a carbon-intensive economy shown to help reduce some of the 7 million annual deaths that result from air pollution.

Health professionals are also taking action in their own hospitals and clinics as they demonstrate how to keep both people and the planet healthy, with over 7,800 hospitals and health facilities worldwide committing to take local action by reducing their own emissions and improving their preparedness to respond to climate change.

Dr Jeff Thompson, CEO, Gunderson Health System added: “As health leaders we have both a moral obligation to decrease our environmental footprint and an economic responsibility to do it in a cost-effective, efficient manner. This is absolutely possible, and many organizations across the globe have been able to show how they can improve the health of their patients and communities, and lower the cost of delivering healthcare all at the same time. Gundersen health system has been able to decrease its CO2 emissions by 80% in just seven years, while saving its organization millions of dollars.”

With these declarations, the health community has joined citizens, business leaders, and investors in calling for a strong international deal in Paris. Health professionals from around the world have traveled to the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris to show politicians that there is an urgent medical need to address climate change.

Dr Xavier Deau, Immediate Past President, World Medical Association, said; “As doctors, it is our role to protect health by drawing political leaders’ attention to the impacts of climate change and to promote health by advocating for local solutions such as cycle-friendly cities and clean, renewable energy. Millions of physicians around the world demand that the global community leave Paris with a strong agreement that protects global health.”