Raising the prominence of health in climate change action

A high-level meeting on 25 February 2015 was convened jointly at the Royal Society in London by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Prince of Wales' International Sustainability Unit (ISU) with the objective of raising the prominence of health in climate change action plans through strengthened engagement of the health sector. Representatives from China, France, Switzerland, the United States, the United Kingdom and WHO were among the participants exchanging ideas for how to increase the health sector's role in a cross-disciplinary approach to tackle climate change mitigation.

In the Prince of Wales's opening address, the health community was urged to tackle climate change as healers now, and not later as coroners. "To use the medical model of Climate change, if the planet were a patient, we would have intervened long ago. Not waited until we had tested the disease to the patient's destruction. Such action, to be effective, requires not only an inter-disciplinary, but also a cross-disciplinary approach." He reflected on the possibility that agreements made at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the Climate Convention (COP21) in Paris, 30 November–11 December 2015, could be the last chance "that our sick planetary patient might be placed on a road to recovery, in the process bringing gains for human wellbeing.  Failure to write the prescription, however, might leave us contemplating the death certificate instead" and he urged attendees to help make a difference.

Disasters, air quality, water and food security and safety were among the health risks highlighted during the meeting, titled "Putting health at the centre of the Climate change debate: The role of the health community in the run up to COP21". Emerging challenges identified included the physiological limitations of adaptation and the growing cascade effect expected from climate change on social and environmental determinants of health. 

Participants discussed solutions in sectors such as housing, transport and cities, and gave focus to the health sector's responsibility to lead by example. Reducing CO2 emissions in institutions and leading behavioural change were seen as the emerging opportunities. 

Outcomes of this meeting are intended to inform engagement strategies for Ministries of Health and civil society leading up to COP21.