The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat (UNFCCC) signed a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Sunday, on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn.
The MoU aims to renew the two institutions’ joint commitment to tackling public health challenges emerging from rising temperatures and to help countries boost the efficiency of their response to climate change.
The 23rd annual UN climate conference, COP23, kicked off in the German city of Bonn last week (lasting from 6 to 17 November), with the participation of about 20,000 attendees, representing 200 countries, showing strong, unified calls to hold to the path of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
2017 is expected to be the hottest year in non El Niño years, as concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016 to the highest level in 800,000 years, according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organisation.
The signing of this MoU recognises that the protection and enhancement of health is an essential pillar of sustainable development, requiring the widest possible cooperation by all countries and other relevant stakeholders, according to a statement by the COP23.
Egypt is a typical example of a developing country which is highly vulnerable to climate change and which faces numerous threats to its economic, social, and environmental sustainability, according to a study by the World Resources Institute.
The study showed that the Egypt’s situation on the map of climate change causes enormous fundamental pressures on Egypt’s competitiveness. These pressures can also be considered growing threats to national security.
These pressures include energy security, as unsustainable use of energy resources is one of the major reasons for environmental degradation and climate change. The consequence is energy scarcity and rising energy prices, which increase poverty, strain national budgets, and jeopardise Egypt’s competitiveness in the future.
Water security is also one of the main pressures facing Egypt. Global warming results in sea level rises due to the melting of glaciers and arctic ice. Consequently, the world’s freshwater resources decline, while salt water intrudes into underground reservoirs. Egypt is particularly susceptible due to its low-altitude Nile Delta.
Sea level rise is another impact of climate change. The Nile Delta is already subsiding at a rate of 3-5mm per year. A rise of one metre would flood a quarter of the Nile Delta, forcing about 10.5% of Egypt’s population from their homes, according to the World Bank (WB).
The impact would be more staggering if Egypt’s population, as expected, doubles to about 160 million by the middle of the century, with the current population density in the Delta region already about 4,000 people per square mile.
“I am delighted that our two institutions are evolving our relationship to both a higher and more action-oriented level. The Paris Climate Change Agreement needs all hands on deck if we are to ensure a healthy world and healthy citizens now and into the future,” Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said.
Espinosa added that many people experience climate change through the impacts on their health, from air pollution and heat waves, to the contamination of drinking water from extreme weather events, and “if together and with many partners, we can realise the world’s climate goals, we can also play our role in providing a major health boost to billions of people,” she said.
Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that, “climate change is one of the most pressing public health threats of our time. The health of future generations everywhere depends on all of us working together to take concrete action today.”
The collaboration takes place at a time when climate change poses a significant threat to public health – extreme weather events and variable climate affect clean air, safe drinking water, food security and secure shelter – and could cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, due to heat stress, malnutrition, diarrhoea, and malaria, between 2030 and 2050, the statement read.
Allowing both institutions to adopt a more integrated and inter-sectoral approach to improving global health and contributing to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the agreement will ensure that health is adressed in the global climate change agenda, in addition to providing a joint framework for strategic collaboration between WHO and UNFCCC to support capacity building, particularly in the developing world, and help countries reduce health vulnerability to climate change.
To help countries reduce health vulnerability to climate change, the two organisations will provide guidance on health risks from climate change, benefits of mitigation policies, and improve countries’ capacity to address health in national climate action plans and national adaptation plans.
They also will support the integration of climate risks into WHO support to health policy and programmes, including in environment health, health system strengthening, disaster preparedness, and inform climate and health policy makers, practitioners, civil society, and the wider public in communicating and preventing climate risks.
The collaboration also includes tracking and reporting the scale and nature of investments in protecting health from climate risks and in development that both promotes health, reduces carbon emissions, increases resilience to climate change impacts, and measuring the progress that countries are making in protecting health from climate change.