The COP 28 Declaration on Climate Change and Health was signed on the first Health Day. Emphasizing the critical role of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, the declaration underscores the urgent need to confront the connections between climate change and health. Read here to learn more.
India has refused to sign the COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health, citing concerns that greenhouse gas reduction for cooling in the health sector could hinder its ability to meet the growing demands for medical services, particularly in remote and underserved areas.
Marking the inaugural Health Day at the 28th UN Climate Change Conference (COP28), global leaders united in endorsing the health and climate change declaration, sounding the alarm on the severe health implications of climate change.
The agreement of a Climate and Health Declaration signed by over 120 Member States. India and the US have not signed the agreement.
Climate change and health
Climate change has significant and wide-ranging impacts on human health, affecting various aspects of well-being, from spreading infectious diseases to exacerbating existing health challenges. The complex interactions between climate change and health are multifaceted, with both direct and indirect consequences.
- Heat-Related Illnesses: Increasing global temperatures contribute to more frequent and severe heatwaves. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can result in heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion, leading to increased morbidity and mortality.
- Vector-Borne Diseases: Climate change influences the distribution and behavior of disease vectors, such as mosquitoes and ticks. Warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns can expand the geographical range of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and Lyme disease.
- Waterborne Diseases: Altered precipitation patterns and increased flooding can impact water quality, leading to the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery.
- Air Quality and Respiratory Issues: Climate change contributes to more frequent and intense wildfires, releasing harmful pollutants into the air. Exposure to wildfire smoke can exacerbate respiratory conditions and lead to an increase in respiratory illnesses.
- Extreme Weather Events: More intense and frequent extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and storms, can result in injuries, displacement, and disruptions to healthcare infrastructure, leading to challenges in responding to health emergencies.
- Food Security and Nutrition: Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can affect crop yields, leading to food shortages and nutritional deficiencies. Climate change impacts on agriculture can contribute to malnutrition and food insecurity.
- Psychological Stress: Climate-related events, such as natural disasters and extreme weather events, can contribute to psychological stress and mental health issues. Displacement, loss of property, and uncertainty about the future can contribute to anxiety and depression.
- Reduced Access to Clean Water: Changes in precipitation patterns and increased evaporation can lead to water scarcity in certain regions. Lack of access to clean water can contribute to the spread of waterborne diseases and hygiene-related health issues.
- Disproportionate Impact on Vulnerable Groups: Vulnerable populations, including the elderly, children, and low-income communities, are often disproportionately affected by the health impacts of climate change. Limited resources and access to healthcare can exacerbate health disparities.
- Displacement and Conflict: Climate-induced events such as sea-level rise and extreme weather events can lead to population displacement. Displaced communities may face increased health risks due to inadequate living conditions, lack of healthcare, and potential resource conflicts.
Read: Environmental racism
COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health
The declaration emphasizes the importance of climate-resilient development and the need to build climate-resilient health systems and communities for the well-being of present and future generations.
A key pillar of the declaration is the commitment to partner with women, girls, children, and youth.
The common objectives of the declaration are:
- Strengthening the development and implementation of policies that maximize the health gains from mitigation and adaptation actions and prevent worsening health impacts from climate change, including through close partnerships with Indigenous Peoples, local communities, women and girls, children and youth, healthcare workers and practitioners, persons with disabilities and the populations most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, among others.
- Facilitating collaboration on human, animal, environmental, and climate health challenges, such as by implementing a One Health approach; addressing the environmental determinants of health; strengthening research on the linkages between environmental and climatic factors and antimicrobial resistance; and intensifying efforts for the early detection of zoonotic spill-overs as an effective means of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
- Recognizing that healthy populations contribute to, and are an effect of, climate resilience and an outcome of successful adaptation across a range of sectors – including food and agriculture, water and sanitation, housing, urban planning, health care, transport, and energy – by prioritizing and implementing adaptation actions across sectors that deliver positive health outcomes.
- Improving the ability of health systems to anticipate, and implement adaptation interventions against, climate-sensitive disease and health risks, including by bolstering climate-health information services, surveillance, early warning and response systems, and a climate-ready health workforce.
- Promoting a comprehensive response to address the impacts of climate change on health, including, for example, mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, loss of traditional medicinal knowledge, loss of livelihoods and culture, and climate-induced displacement and migration.
- Combating inequalities within and among countries, and pursuing policies that work towards accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG3; reduce poverty and hunger; improve health and livelihoods; strengthen social protection systems, food security, and improved nutrition, access to clean sources of energy, safe drinking water, and sanitation and hygiene for all; and work to achieve universal health coverage.
- Promoting steps to curb emissions and reduce waste in the health sector, such as by assessing the greenhouse gas emissions of health systems, and developing action plans, nationally determined decarbonization targets, and procurement standards for national health systems, including supply chains.
- Strengthening trans- and inter-disciplinary research, cross-sectoral collaboration, sharing of best practices, and monitoring of progress at the climate-health nexus, including through initiatives such as the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH).
As per the National Disaster Management Authority’s National Disaster Management Plan 2019 (NDMP, 2019), various nodal and supportive Ministries/departments have been mandated to address various facets of managing such hazards including preparedness, response, and mitigation of health risks associated with such hazards.
Under NDMP, 2019 has undertaken several activities under the National Program on Climate Change and Human Health (NPCCHH), with objectives to create awareness, capacity building, health sector preparedness and response, and collaborative partnerships.
Key activities undertaken under the initiative to mitigate health risks associated with such hazards likely to be accentuated by climate change include:
- A National Action Plan on Climate Change and Human Health has been developed, which outlines the key priority and actionable areas at various levels (national and state) in the health sector with the identification of other key stakeholders for implementing the activities.
- Early warning Alerts of environmental concerns are initiated to integrate with the health sector- Heatwave (March-July), Cold Wave (Dec-Jan) forecasts and Flood alerts from IMD to States; Air Quality forecasts from Indian Meteorological Department to States and Indian Cities.
- Annual conduct of nationwide public awareness campaigns on World Health Day (April), World Environment Day (June), International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies (September), and International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (October).
- Conduct National level workshops, training of state-level master trainers, district-level training on Air pollution-related illnesses and Surveillance; Extreme weather events; Health Vulnerability Needs Assessment; Green & Climate Resilient Infrastructure and WASH, Climate Change and Vector-Borne Diseases, Nutrition and Allergic Health issues
- Environmental health surveillance is conducted on air pollution and heat-related illnesses at central and state levels
- Under the National Health Mission funds are provided to States/UTs regarding Green/Low carbon emission measures.
- Further, the incorporation of principles of Green & Climate Resilient Hospitals has been made under Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS), 2022.
- Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has issued comprehensive & Public Health Guidelines for Flood Events & which provide details on common public health effects due to floods.
Numerous crucial Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies should be adhered to by nations to combat the concerns of climate change on health.
Renewable Energy Transition: Reducing reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy sources can mitigate climate change and improve air quality.
Early Warning Systems: Implementing early warning systems for extreme weather events can enhance preparedness and response, reducing the impact on health.
Infrastructure Resilience: Building resilient healthcare infrastructure and systems that can withstand the impacts of climate change is crucial for effective health response.
Addressing the health impacts of climate change requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach involving public health initiatives, environmental policies, and global cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience in vulnerable communities.
The intersection of climate change and health underscores the importance of holistic strategies that prioritize both environmental sustainability and human well-being.
-Article by Swathi Satish