First WHO Conference on Health and Climate: Europe urges promoting health while mitigating climate change

Participants from 33 Member States in the WHO European Region are taking part in the Conference, held in Geneva, Switzerland on 27–29 August 2014.

The Conference is intended to promote a more systematic approach to health protection in coordination with national and international efforts to address climate change. Key objectives include:

  • to widen access to the most up-to-date evidence, tools and knowledge to enhance resilience and protect health from climate change;
  • to identify the health benefits associated with reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants; and
  • to support policies on climate change that promote health.

The participants include high-level government representatives, development partners and technical experts.

The environment and health sectors in the WHO European Region have a long history of collaboration, consolidated in 2010 through the establishment of the European Environment and Health Ministerial Board. In a session on day 1 of the Conference that focused on linking the international climate, sustainable development and health policy, Valentina Tapis, Minister of Environment of the Republic of Moldova, representing the Board, said: “Today, the question is not anymore ‘if and what to do’, but ‘how to do it’. This has been prominent on our agenda in the European Region since the Third Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, held in 1999 in London. The European Environment and Health Ministerial Board has identified climate change as one of the most important environment and health challenges of our time. The most effective adaptation measures for health in the near term are programmes that focus on prevention; ensure basic public health services; reduce inequalities; provide clean water, air and food; increase capacity for disaster preparedness and response; and alleviate poverty. For this reason, a more intensified inclusion of climate change into public health planning and programs is required.”

Relevance for the European environment and health process

Participants from the European Region will shape Conference outcomes through sessions on policies, mechanisms and tools for building health resilience to climate change, issues in urban settings and the leveraging of environment and climate finance to strengthen health systems. This will contribute to the Board’s work on commitments made in the 2010 Parma Declaration on Environment and Health, which is guided by the European Working Group on Health in Climate Change (HIC). HIC drives change and promotes the exchange of experience and pilot projects through 38 countries in the European Region and 5 contributing agencies: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the European Environment Agency (EEA), the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

The HIC co-chairs – Louise Newport of the Department of Health, United Kingdom, and Jutta Litvinovitch,of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety in Germany – made a statement, saying: “Climate change responses have been rather reactive, as was seen recently in the multiple floods hitting Europe this year. Advance planning for what climate change will likely bring is an important component of the health-in-climate-change response, so capacities need to be evaluated and actively developed.”