Climate action co-benefits discussed at global summit in New York

Today in New York, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is hosting a global UN Climate Summit. The Summit aims to bring together heads of state and government with leaders from business, finance, civil society and subnational governments to further catalyse ambitious action and secure continuing political commitment on reducing emissions ahead of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in Paris, France in December 2015.

WHO event on co-benefits of climate action

To support and strengthen the arguments for action, WHO is hosting a thematic discussion on the co-benefits of action at the Summit. Health benefits constitute some of the largest and most immediate payoffs from low-carbon development choices. There is rapidly growing evidence that the health benefits of greener and more sustainable policy choices would bring about large, local and immediate health gains, particularly associated with improved air quality.

In many cases, these gains would largely offset the financial costs of the measures. This was clearly recognized in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and forms the basis of national climate change plans in some countries. This could be further supported through stronger intersectoral collaboration, a wider use of tools such as health impact assessments and cost–benefit analyses that incorporate all relevant health benefits and risks, and monitoring of health trends associated with measures taken.

In order to halt climate change, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are required within the next 15 years. Many countries and businesses have already realized the economic opportunities and reduced risks related to decreasing greenhouse emissions and strengthening resilience. They are enjoying the benefits of sustainable low-carbon economic growth:

  • resilient infrastructure
  • new markets
  • decent jobs
  • energy independence
  • women’s empowerment
  • cleaner air
  • improved public health.

Greening the health sector

Approximately 4.2% of total European greenhouse gas emissions come from the health sector; the health sector could lead by example, reducing emissions and becoming more environmentally sustainable. The WHO Regional Office for Europe is actively engaged in supporting environmentally sustainable health systems, as well as raising awareness and encouraging research on the health co-benefits of greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Promoting mitigation activities strongly complements the priorities and achievements in adaptation, ensuring that the health systems and communities in the European Region are sufficiently resilient to protect the health of the population in the face of a changing climate.