By Anne T. Sulton, Ph.D., J.D.
JA Senior International Correspondent
Healthy Climate Prescription (HCP) is an international collection of nearly 450 groups representing more than 45 million health care workers across the planet. This week, HCP issued an open letter to world leaders scheduled to attend COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland later this month. COP26 is the 26th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
HCP’s letter begins by stating: “The climate crisis is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. As health professionals and health workers, we recognize our ethical obligation to speak out about this rapidly growing crisis that could be far more catastrophic and enduring than the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Among HCP’s calls for action are for “all nations to deliver a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels, starting with immediately cutting all related permits, subsidies and financing for fossil fuels, and to completely shift current financing into development of clean energy.” It also demands that governments “build climate resilient, low-carbon, sustainable health systems”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) released this week its Special Report on Climate Change and Health: The Health Argument for Climate Action. WHO explains: “Wherever we deliver care, in our hospitals, clinics and communities around the world, we are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change. … We call on the leaders of every country and their representatives at COP26 to avert the impending health catastrophe by limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and to make human health and equity central to all climate change mitigation and adaptation actions.”
WHO warns that “no one is safe from the health impacts of climate change”. It urges world leaders to take 10 steps, including placing “health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks”, building “environmentally sustainable health systems and facilities”, and promoting “sustainable and resilient food production and more affordable, nutritious diets that deliver on both climate and health outcomes.”
Essentially, the message sent this week by HCP and WHO to COP26 is that they expect world leaders to leave the COP26 meetings with agreements reflecting an understanding that we must dramatically reduce fossil fuel burning and improve our health care systems because climate change is adversely impacting human health now.
When – by what date certain – will world leaders act like they recognize the full implications of climate change, i.e., that climate change is a clear and present danger to human health worldwide?