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Climate talks at COP28 spotlight health crisis amidst urgent calls for action

Posted: Sunday, December 3, 2023. 8:37 am CST.

By Horace Palacio: As the United Nations climate talks entered their second day in Dubai, the focus sharply turned to the human health implications of the ongoing climate crisis, amidst a backdrop of increasing global concern.

Under the brown haze that often shrouds Dubai, delegates at the COP28 summit shifted their attention from general calls for unity to more specific concerns about health issues linked to climate change. According to a recent report by Caribbean Loop News, at least 7 million people die annually due to air pollution, while the spread of diseases like cholera and malaria is being exacerbated by the disruption of weather systems caused by global warming.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization Director-General, highlighted the urgency of addressing these health threats. “It’s high time for the UN Conference of Parties on climate to hold its first ‘Health Day’ in its 28th edition,” he said. Tedros stressed the immediate and present threats to health from climate change, adding, “Undoubtedly, health stands as the most compelling reason for taking climate action.”

After two days marked by speeches from numerous world leaders, the summit is now gearing up for nine days of intensive negotiations. The primary goal is to reach a consensus on measures to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

The urgency of the situation was underlined by protests on Sunday. In one such demonstration, activists performed a mock resuscitation on an inflatable Earth. Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician from Alberta, Canada, participating in the protest, remarked on the dire need for heightened awareness: “We’re kind of in a lot of trouble right now and so anything we can do to bring attention to this issue.”

The COP28 presidency announced on Saturday that 50 oil and gas companies had agreed to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030, with a pledge to achieve “net zero” for their operational emissions by 2050. However, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed skepticism, noting that the promises fall short of what is required and criticizing the net zero pledge for excluding emissions from fossil fuel consumption.

Temperature rises due to the burning of oil, gas, and coal have worsened natural disasters and led to increased migration, alongside negative health effects. John Kerry, the US climate envoy, emphasized this point, saying, “If you poison our land and you poison our water and you poison our air, you poison our bodies.”

In the United States, efforts are underway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the health sector, which accounts for 8.5 percent of the country’s total emissions. Admiral Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, highlighted initiatives under the Inflation Reduction Act aimed at cutting down these emissions.

As the conference continues, the emphasis on the intersection of climate and health grows stronger, with experts underscoring the need for immediate and comprehensive action to mitigate the multifaceted impacts of the climate crisis on human health and well-being.


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