Climate change increasingly affects small countries
For further information, contact:
Dr Francesco Zambon
Investment for Health and Development in Healthy Settings
WHO European Office for Investment for Health and Development
I-30122 Venice, Italy
Tel.: +39 041 279 3866
Reykjavik, Iceland, 27 June 2018
Climate change challenges many countries in the world and is increasingly affecting small countries. Ministers and other high-level public health officials from the 8 countries that make up the Small Countries Initiative will gather in Reykjavik on 26–27 June to find solutions that can protect their people’s health from this and other threats. Enhanced efforts will contribute to reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is the 5th annual meeting of the Initiative since it was launched in 2013 (the full programme of the meeting is available online).
More frequent and intensive extreme weather events
Globally, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year. It is estimated that the direct damage costs to health will be US$ 2–4 billion a year by 2030.
Small countries have to deal with climate change consequences such as rising sea levels, more frequent and intensive extreme weather events like heatwaves, heavy precipitation, floods or droughts, increasing water scarcity and others. As a result, water resources might become less available, and water and sanitation services that are resilient to climate change need to be built.
“Climate change threatens life on our planet. Many small countries are at particular risk. Fortunately, small states have intrinsic strategic agility, often offering innovative solutions, serving as catalysers of global change. We count on and learn from their experience in tackling environmental challenges,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
Investments urged to tackle climate change’s effects
Tackling the negative impacts of climate change is a global priority, but despite this, investment is still lacking and action is needed to reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The delegates at the meeting are expected to endorse a political statement that will strengthen joint action on the effects of climate change and ensure safe and climate-resilient water and sanitation services.
By endorsing the statement, the delegates of the Small Countries Initiative will commit to concrete action to protect health from environmental risks and climate change. The statement emphasizes the whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, which means that every segment of society, all public authorities, at all levels, share a common responsibility for safeguarding the environment and protecting people’s health.
Sharing best practice on climate change action: the experience of Iceland
At the meeting, Iceland will share its rich and well-established experience in tackling environmental issues for the well-being of its population. The country has in many ways set the standard in terms of environmental awareness and the protection of natural resources, like water.
“There could not be better place than Iceland – a country which is a world champion of resilience – to launch a joint statement on climate-resilient water and sanitation services. The statement is a strong call from the small countries to the world: the health and well-being of future generations is in our hands and we are all committed to uniting efforts to leave no one behind, as aspired to by the SDGs. The time for action is now,” adds Dr Jakab.
About the Small Countries Initiative
WHO/Europe launched the Small Countries Initiative in 2013. It brings together the Member States of the WHO European Region with a population of less than 1 million and serves as a platform for sharing knowledge and experience on implementing Health 2020 and the SDGs. The 8 members of the Initiative are: Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro and San Marino. The members host annual high-level meetings on a rotational basis.
The Initiative encompasses 2 subnetworks: the Small Countries Health Information Network (SCHIN), which addresses the specific challenges in health information systems and reporting; and the network of communication professionals/journalists, which focuses on communicating the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and media reporting on health.
More information about the Initiative and its previous meetings is available online.
Other fast facts about climate change impact on health
- According to environmental experts, sea levels are projected to rise by 0.26–0.98 meters by the year 2100 because of glacial melting.
- Climate change causes more frequent and intensive extreme weather events, such as heavy precipitation, floods or droughts. In 1991–2015, in the WHO European Region, more than 2000 people died and over 9 million were affected by flooding.
- Globally, each 1°C of temperature increase caused by global warming is projected to result in a 20% reduction in renewable water resources. In the European Region, increasing water scarcity will affect central and southern Europe and central Asia. The countries of the European Union are also expected to face high water scarcity, which is estimated to increase from 19% in 2007 to 35% by the 2070s, which will affect an additional 16–44 million people.
- Drought spells and water scarcity may impact delivery of safe drinking water and compromise hygiene, and thus increase the risk of diarrhoeal and other sanitation-related diseases.
- Although more than 51 million people in the countries of the European Region gained access to a basic drinking-water services between 2000 and 2015, almost 21 million people still do not enjoy such access, and about 57 million people lack piped water. About 75% of people without basic drinking-water services live in rural areas.
- In countries of the European Region, over 36 million people did not have access to basic sanitation in 2015, which means that they were using unsafe, unsustainable or shared sanitation solutions.