A special initiative aimed to protect people living in Small Island Developing States from the heath impacts of climate change has been launched at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference of parties COP23 in Bonn, Germany.
The World Health Organisation, in collaboration with the UN Climate Change Secretariat and in partnership with the Fijian Presidency of COP23 launched the initiative at a side-event at the COP23 on Sunday.
The vision is that, by 2030, all Small Island Developing States would have health systems that were resilient to climate change.
It was also to ensure that countries around the world would be reducing their carbon emissions both to protect the most vulnerable from climate risks and deliver large health benefits in carbon-emitting countries.
The initiative had four main goals; to amplify the voices of health leaders in Small Island Developing States, so they have more impact at home and internationally, Secondly, to gather the evidence to support the business case for investment in climate change and health and thirdly to promote policies that improve preparedness and prevention, including “climate proof” health systems, and fourthly, to triple the levels of international financial support to climate and health in small island developing states.
“People living in Small Island Developing States are on the frontline of extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increased risk of infectious disease,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO noted, adding that: “We owe it to these people to do everything we can to help them prepare for the future that is already washing up on their shores.”
Mr Frank Bainimarama, the Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President, said: “We in Fiji know all too well that climate change poses a serious threat to the health of our people.
“I’m delighted that we are launching this initiative-in partnership with the WHO and UNFCCC-to better equip small island states like ours with the knowledge, resources and technology to increase the resilience of their health systems, as part of larger efforts to adapt to climate change,”
Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change, said: “Climate change will increasingly impact the health and well-being of people everywhere unless nations fully implement the Paris Agreement”.
“Small islands are in the frontline from extreme weather events that can contaminate drinking water to health-hazardous heatwaves and the spread of infectious diseases.
“This initiative can strengthen the response of small islands to the rising risks as the world works to ensure that together we keep a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees C and better, no higher than 1.5 degrees, “ she said.
Small Island Developing States have long been recognized as especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. Their situation was highlighted in the UNFCCC, by Ministers of Health at the 2008 World Health Assembly, and in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
They have also pioneered innovative approaches to improve the resilience of their health systems to climate change. As well as emitting a small proportion of the greenhouse gases that were driving climate change, many were further reducing their already low carbon emissions.
“Small Island Developing States are ready to take leadership towards green, resilient and health-promoting national development–but the support of the international community is essential,” said Dr Joy St John, the Assistant Director-General for Climate and Other Determinants of Health at WHO.
“Less than 1.5 per cent of international finance for climate change adaptation is allocated to projects which ensure that the health of all people is preserved, and only a fraction of this supports small island developing states.
The recent severe weather events in the Caribbean demonstrate that targeted interventions are important. We need to do much more and we need to act very quickly”, he stated
Country ownership was a central principle of this initiative as Ministers of health from some of the most affected countries have already started to provide input through consultation with WHO’s Director-General and at WHO Regional Committee meetings.
Since 2015, WHO has been working with the UNFCCC secretariat to develop detailed country profiles to assess risks, and provide tailored advice on how these countries can adapt to, and mitigate, the health effects of climate change.
More than 45 country profiles have already been completed and, as part of this initiative, WHO commits to publishing a country profile for all small island developing states by the end of 2018.
Many national health actors, development and United Nations agencies are already making important contributions to protect health in small island developing states. WHO’s initiative aims to bring together existing and new efforts and scale them up so they achieve maximum impact.
“The vision is that, by 2030, all health systems in small island developing states will be able to withstand climate variability and change,” noted Dr St John. “And, of course, that countries around the world will have substantially reduced carbon emissions.”
COP23, being hosted by the Fiji Republic as the Chair, with the German government supporting, opened in Bonn on November 6 and would be closing on November 17.
Delegates around the globe are hoping to ensure greater momentum for the Paris Agreement and to raise the level of ambition needed to address global warming at the two week event.