Air pollution causes seven million deaths annually worldwide and costs more than $5 billion in losses globally, according to a 000 WHO report. In contrast, meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement could save around one million lives annually by 2018 just by taking into account the goal of reducing air pollution.
Extreme weather events in recent months offer "a frightening glimpse" of what lies ahead in a rapidly warming world, the World Health Organization warned Monday in a document addressing the COP28 conference, which begins Thursday in Dubai, noting that some 3.500 billion people, Almost half of humanity lives in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change.
"Only determined and targeted efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C [above pre-industrial levels] will prevent a much worse future than the one we see now," the WHO said.
According to the U.N. health agency, heat-related deaths among people over the age of 65 worldwide have increased by 70% in two decades.
The WHO called for the health impacts of climate change to be at the heart of the COP28 negotiations, the 28th Climate Summit and underscored the importance of participants placing greater emphasis on human health in global debates, "leaving no room for excuses and forcing negotiators to recognize that they are responsible for global health."
At a press conference to present the WHO's position, the organization's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that "we must change the conversation and demonstrate the enormous benefits of stronger climate action for our health and well-being."
The WHO document and the press conference in Geneva warned that increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and heatwaves, will also put pressure on health infrastructures.
The WHO also warned that climate change is increasing the spread of infectious diseases and those transmitted by animals, such as dengue fever or cholera, which is putting millions of people at risk.
Last year's floods in Pakistan alone displaced eight million people and affected 33 million in total. According to World Bank projections, if there is no effective action to curb climate change, it will cause some 216 million people to be displaced by global warming by the middle of the century.
The WHO also noted that air pollution causes seven million premature deaths annually worldwide.
"With climate change, we are seeing improvements in the conditions for the transmission of infectious diseases, especially those transmitted through water or food or especially through vectors such as malaria and dengue. Most importantly, we see environmental and social determinants of health being undermined," said WHO Team Leader, Climate Change and Health, Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum.
The organization and the global health community have advocated for decarbonizing healthcare systems, digitizing medicine, and implementing sustainable practices in hospitals and healthcare facilities to significantly reduce the 5% of global emissions attributed to the sector.
According to WHO data, more than 1 billion people worldwide are served by health facilities with unreliable or no electricity. For low-income countries that lack access to clean energy, the health community called for accelerated access to clean energy.
The WHO has also called for increased funding. The call calls for divesting and ending fossil fuel subsidies, and mobilizing new funds to support health systems in the fight against climate change.
Currently, the health sector receives just 0.5% of global climate finance. Multiplying financial support would involve strengthening the sector's capacity to innovate, adapt and provide optimal care, the U.N. health agency said.
For all these reasons, he called on COP28 negotiators to recognize that the climate fight is "a health action" and that failing to address this reality will have "profound consequences for the well-being of current and future generations."
(With information from Sputnik, EFE and La Vanguardia)