Leaders see hope in tackling deadly climate change and public health problems together

By | September 18, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) — In an effort to reduce the overwhelming impact of climate change, experts hope that attempts to improve the shaky global public health system and sometimes stalled efforts to curb global warming through collaboration can combine and create a better system to handle the problem down the road.

Leaders of the World Health Organization and upcoming climate talks said Monday that for the first time they will dedicate a day during December climate talks to public health issues. By focusing on how climate change is causing death and disease, they hope, nations can take more action on the root cause: carbon pollution.

“Climate change is killing us, and climate change is a health crisis,” said Vanessa Kerry, World Health Organization special envoy for health and climate change, CEO of Seed Global Health and daughter of the US envoy for the climate John Kerry. “We should not measure our failures in degrees Celsius but in lives lost.”

At the start of Climate Week in New York, ahead of the special UN climate ambition summit on Wednesday, leaders cast health as a key part of the fight against climate change, saying better and higher spending on health.

Meanwhile, police said more than 100 protesters were arrested while blocking the New York Federal Reserve. They were targeting Wall Street for financing the coal, oil and gas that trigger global warming and blaming President Joe Biden, whose administration has gone all over town to emphasize how seriously the United States takes the problem.

“The threats to health in our changing climate are right here and right now. The climate crisis is a health crisis,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization. Reducing carbon and other air pollution “will save lives,” he said. “The health of our future generations is at stake.”


A United Nations report earlier this month showed the world is far off track in its efforts to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement and limit future warming, said Adnan Amin, the chief executive of the upcoming talks on climate, called COP28. So the upcoming negotiations in Dubai are “one of the last chances you have to correct course,” he said. And a public health day “is when you can actually get the impetus for change.”

“Lives and livelihoods are in danger around the world,” said Sultan Al Jaber, president of COP28. According to him, 7 million people around the world die every year from air pollution, which is technically not the same as carbon dioxide and methane that cause warming, but often comes from similar sources.

The small African nation of Malawi discovered how deadly global warming is from a health perspective earlier this year when Cyclone Freddy killed hundreds of people and massive malaria epidemics followed, Malawi’s president said Lazarus Chakwera.

He said much of Africa’s public health problems are linked to climate change. He and others mentioned the recent flooding in Libya and said to expect public health problems in the future.

“At the heart of the fight against climate change is the need for adequate resources,” Chakwera said during Monday’s session on climate and health.

Only 0.5% of global financial aid goes towards public health and climate change, Al Jaber said. “This,” he said, “is in no way acceptable or sufficient.”

Perhaps talking about lives that can be saved by spending more money to adapt to a warmer world – but also by reducing carbon emissions – is a positive message that could change the way negotiators and leaders think about fighting climate change, he said Maria Neira, WHO Director for Climate Change, Environment and Health.


Hundreds of climate protesters had the global financial system in mind when they marched to the Wall Street area and blocked access to the New York Federal Reserve.

“It’s important to send a message to world leaders, to Joe Biden, to the financial sector here on Wall Street that the climate crisis is upon us and (demonstrate) the level of urgency with which we need them to respond,” said Jonathan Westin, a activist of the Climate Organizing Hub.

Protesters targeted the fossil fuel industry and criticized the United States’ status as the world’s No. 1 nation in planning future oil and gas drilling.

“The only institution that can effectively regulate Wall Street and force banks to stop financing new oil, gas and coal infrastructure is the Fed,” said Alicé Nascimento, campaigns director for Communities for Change in New York.

“They have that power. So we want to make sure they know they have to use that power.”


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