WHO event at UN climate talks: What the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report means for health


Delegates of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn gathered on 12 June 2014 at a WHO side event to explore recent findings on climate change and health. Dr Jörn Birkmann from the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security, and a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) Working Group 2 (WGII), presented vulnerabilities and risks outlined in the IPCC’s recent findings, including the need to strengthen response capacities related to health.

“The recent IPCC report clearly shows that we are already on the path to climate change, and a growing range of related health effects.  However, we can still decide the future we want for our children – now is the time for action, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a more sustainable and equal world,” commented Bettina Menne, Programme Manager for Climate Change, Sustainable Environment, and Green Health at WHO/Europe.

Panellists from Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom, the United Nations University, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the International Youth Climate movement (YOUNGO) and WHO explored the challenges of emphasising the importance of health issues within the climate change negotiations. These comments included:

  • Nick Nuttall, Coordinator of Communications and Outreach at UNFCCC highlighted that engaging health ministers is imperative in achieving a binding inclusion and awareness of health in time for the 2015 discussions in Paris. The final agreement needs to hold relevance across all sectors of government. He noted that we can learn from previous experiences of the co-benefits to health, the economy and the environment achieved in other sectors, such as agreements to remove the lead content of petrol.
  • David Warrilow, Department of Energy and Climate Change of the United Kingdom, noted that health ministries are key to providing the strongest links between governments and their people. The co-benefits of climate policies can be employed by health ministries as arguments for ambitious action, and it is essential to engage the health community in this process, he added.
  • Danijela Bozanic, Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection of Serbia, explained how one fifth of the Serbian population was recently affected by the devastating impact of climate change due to flooding in the Balkans, adding that as so many lives have been affected, it must provide an immediate mandate for action.
  • Teodora Grncarovska, Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, identified health as a unifying concept for all involved parties. Health is the most relevant, comprehensible aspect of climate change for almost all people.
  • Stacey Wilenkin, YOUNGO representative, explained that youth engagement in health issues can provide many with the hope that has so far, been missing in the process.     

The subsequent discussion highlighted the unifying and multi-sectoral effect of health in bringing together many diverse parties.  It was acknowledged that here is an increased need for the health sector to act proactively to engage itself with the climate change negotiations. In order to be effective, negotiators and health experts require tools and training to support and inform their action.