Putting Health at the centre of the Climate Change debate: the role of the health community
It is increasingly recognised that climate change will have severe consequences for human health. The Scientific Report of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated, with high confidence, that the health of the human population is sensitive to shifts in weather patterns and other aspects of climate change. Climate change will increase vulnerability to more extreme and frequent weather events, reduce the capacity of ecosystems to provide adequate nutrition or clean drinking water and result in changes to disease vector distribution.
In addition, however, increasing evidence also shows that mitigating climate change can result in significant public health benefits. For example, reducing climate altering pollutants in the atmosphere through reduced use of fossil fuels can decrease cardiovascular and respiratory illness and thoughtful consideration of the climate change impacts of agriculture, transport and urban design can all lead to significant health benefits.
The ISU’s health and climate change work stream raised the profile of the health implications of climate change and the health benefits of climate change mitigation, with a particular focus on the run up to the international climate negotiations in December 2015. Since 2013 the ISU worked to promote and help advance the work of a coalition of influential clinicians, intergovernmental health organisations, healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and health care professionals, to find ways to articulate and mitigate the health impacts of climate change in the lead up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings in 2015.
In February 2015, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and the World Health Organisation bought together Ministers of Health and a wide variety of senior health experts, health professionals and civil society to discuss activity that might be taken in the run up to the negotiations to ensure that climate change is understood to be of great concern to human health. In his address to the meeting participants HRH emphasised this, saying ‘if the planet were a patient, we would have intervened long ago’. HRH went on to say:
‘actions which are good for the planet are also good for human health…taking a more active approach to transport by walking and cycling and adopting healthy diets reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also reduce rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer and more – saving lives and money. Reductions in air pollution also result – with separate and additional benefits to human health. A healthy planet and healthy people are two sides of the same coin.’
HRH finished his speech by expressing his hope 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… ‘
The full text of HRH speech can be found here:
A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at a meeting about “Putting Health at the Centre of the Climate Change debate: The role of the Health community in the run up to COP21”, The Royal Society, London. February 2015
The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change: policy responses to protect public health
On the 23rd June HRH The Prince of Wales delivered a video message at the launch of the Lancet Commission on Heath and Climate Change. This Commission highlights the many ways in which climate change poses an ‘unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health’. However, the report goes on to detail how tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st Century and that mitigating and adapting to climate change offer ‘no regret’ options which can in enhance community resilience, alleviate poverty and address global inequity.
The ISU is delighted to have been able to work closely with many of those involved in the publication of this commission and welcomes the strong evidence, proposed solutions and ‘call to action’ it provides. HRH video address can be viewed below and more details about the Commission can be found at http://climatehealthcommission.org/.
Additional speeches by HRH on the subject of climate change, health and the environment can also be found at:
A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales on Health and the Environment delivered at The Cathedral of the Assumption, Louisville, Kentucky. March 2015
Climate Change, Health and Nutrition
As of 2017 the ISU is exploring in more detail the links between climate change, nutrition and agriculture. It is understood that some of the most severe health risks from climate change will occur as a result of reduced food and nutritional security as changing temperatures and more extreme climatic conditions hit the already degraded agricultural systems which underpin our food systems. As a result of this, the ISU is working to help better articulate the importance of ensuring that, in a world where natural capital is increasingly degraded and under threat from climate change, agricultural production is both nutritious for human health and of benefit to the soil and ecosystem health on which agriculture depends.