Protecting health in a 2° world – the costs and responsibilities

WHO/Bettina Menne

Many informal discussions and meetings take place in the exhibition area for COP21.

"These next few days in Paris mark a momentous opportunity for health - the time has come for a global agreement to keep the world's population safe from dangerous climate change – with an urgent need for us to change towards healthier, low-carbon lifestyles, leapfrogging polluting technologies towards a safer future," said Dr Louise Newport, health chair of the WHO European Region's 'Heath in Climate' change working group, from the Department of Health of the United Kingdom (UK), in her opening comments at a side event during the  21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 2 December 2015. 

The event was organized by WHO/Europe and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the UK Department of Health, and the European Environment Agency to facilitate discussions and exchange national experiences to build strong climate mitigation policies as well as strong adaptation actions to protect public health and increase people's resilience. 

Presentations on climate change 

Presentations covered the impact on climates, health effects, and economic implications of a 2 degree global warming scenario, as well as case studies on health adaptation strategies implemented in the Netherlands. 

Speaking about the health effects of climate change, Dr Bettina Menne, Regional Adviser on Climate Change, Sustainable Environment, and Green Health at WHO/Europe emphasized that it would be useful to reflect the health benefits of countries' actions to address climate change in pledged commitments, known as "intended nationally determined contributions" or INDCs, in future actions proposed.

Dr Leendert van Bree, from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), stressed the importance of sharing lessons learnt, including through mechanisms such as the European Working group on Health in Climate Change. 

Dr Robert Vautard, from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France, noted that, "The impacts of climate change on society in a 2 degree world will be significant, and integrating climate change into all spheres of policies is essential."

Other speakers emphasised that the perception of climate change risks differ across communities. For example while there is a high risk of heat-related health effects, the focus for concern among Dutch citizens is large scale flooding.

Subsequent discussions reflected a range of issues, including evidence regarding the impact of climate change on migration and the consequences for health, health equity issues related to the impact of climate change, health resilience in extreme weather events, the role of water and sanitation in the context of a changing climate.

"Health central to climate action" – side event on 9 December 2015

WHO/Europe is also organizing another side event at COP21, "Health central to climate action", with the participation of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, the Minister of Health of France, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and many others, on 9 December 2015.