WHO provides health-based arguments and tools to support policy-making at UN Climate Change Conference

WHO provided health-based arguments for action on climate change as well as tools to quantify the physical and economic benefits of improving air quality at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The 3 products launched at the event on 3–14 December 2018 in Katowice, Poland, will support Member States in developing policies to tackle climate change and its effect on health and well-being.

Public health and climate change adaptation policies in the European Union

Climate change is a public health issue. Responding to climate change involves 2 parallel processes: mitigation, which aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases; and adaptation, which aims to anticipate and take action to prevent or manage the impacts of climate change.

The “Public health and climate change adaptation policies in the European Union” report launched at COP24 is the result of an 18-month project with the European Commission. It analyses developments in health policies to address adaptation to climate change in European Union countries and provides a selection of good-practice case studies.

The analysis found that governance mechanisms for integrating climate action into health policy and planning seem well established in European Union countries. However, the report identifies several specific areas for technical improvement, particularly in strengthening surveillance on climate-sensitive diseases.

Quantifying health benefits from carbon reductions

Switching to low-carbon energy sources not only delivers direct health benefits through better air quality – it also offers many other opportunities to improve health. For example, introducing active transport options such as cycling helps to increase physical activity, which can help prevent noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

The Carbon Reduction Benefits on Health (CaRBonH) calculation tool, developed by WHO and launched at COP24, allows for the quantification of the positive physical and economic consequences for health achieved through improvements in air quality from carbon reduction. As such, the tool aims to support Member States in developing informed policies for national mitigation actions and measures.

Special report on health and climate change to support UNFCCC negotiation

Last year, the President of COP23, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, asked WHO to produce a report on health and climate change. Launched at COP24, the report highlights why health considerations are critical to the advancement of climate action and outlines key recommendations for policy-makers. By providing recommendations for governments on how to maximize the health benefits of tackling climate change, it aims to help countries avoid the worst health impacts of this global challenge.

The report calls for countries to account for health in all cost–benefit analyses of climate change mitigation. It also recommends that countries use fiscal incentives such as carbon pricing and energy subsidies in sectors to incentivize the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. It further encourages Parties to the UNFCCC to remove existing barriers to supporting climate-resilient health systems.