The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a stern warning about the catastrophic impact of climate change on global health, urging immediate action to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This call to action comes in preparation for the upcoming COP28 climate summit in Dubai, where the dire situation is set to take center stage.
According to the WHO, extreme weather events are providing a 'terrifying vision' of the future in a rapidly warming world. It is reported that nearly half of humanity, approximately 3.5 billion people, reside in areas highly susceptible to the effects of climate change. In a stark revelation, the WHO reported a 70% increase in heat-related deaths among people over 65 worldwide in the last two decades.
Climate Change: A Threat to Global Health
The WHO stressed the importance of prioritizing health in climate negotiations, urging negotiators to acknowledge their responsibility for global health. The organization pointed out that climate change exacerbates the spread of infectious diseases and those transmitted by animals, such as dengue and cholera. Furthermore, it is also putting pressure on health infrastructures due to more frequent and severe weather events like droughts, floods, and heatwaves.
Last year's floods in Pakistan, which displaced 8 million people and affected a total of 33 million, stand as a stark reminder of the havoc climate change can wreak. According to World Bank projections, if effective climate action is not taken, global warming could lead to 216 million climate-related displacements by mid-century.
Decarbonizing Health Systems and Digitizing Medicine
The WHO and the global health community are advocating for decarbonizing health systems, digitizing medicine, and implementing sustainable practices. These measures are anticipated to significantly reduce the sector's contribution to global emissions, which currently stands at 5%. Air pollution, a direct result of climate change, is reportedly causing seven million premature deaths annually.
The WHO is also calling for increased funding for health systems to combat climate change, highlighting that the sector currently receives a meager 0.5% of global climate finance. They argue that increasing financial support would strengthen the sector's capacity to innovate, adapt, and provide optimal care.
In its appeal to COP28 negotiators, the WHO underscores the need to recognize climate action as a health action. The organization warns of profound consequences for the well-being of current and future generations if this reality is not addressed.