‘The Single Biggest Health Threat’

Children look out on a flooded road at the Zakhira underpass in Delhi, September 1, 2021. Image:  Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty
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Children look out on a flooded road at the Zakhira underpass in Delhi, September 1, 2021. Image: Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

WHO weighed in yesterday on climate change discussions with a new report and some of its strongest language to date, in advance of next month’s UN climate change conference.
 
The COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health itemized 10 recommendations based on growing research that links climate and health. More striking than the recommendations (which included “Place health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks.”), however, was the report’s blunt language:

  • “The burning of fossil fuels is killing us.”
  • “Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity.”
  • And, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement: “The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people.”


Tedros called on governments to commit to decisive action at COP26 to limit warming to a 1.5C increase to “avert impending health catastrophe.”
 
Not so simple: While the report noted the many “co-benefits” to health of climate interventions, it also acknowledged that  “some climate mitigation and adaptation policies may not maximise health gains or may potentially cause harm.”
 
Health workers unite: Timed with the report was the publication of an open letter signed by 450 organizations representing 45 million health workers. The letter proclaimed, “Wherever we deliver care … we are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change.”

 
Related: Climate crisis is 'single biggest health threat facing humanity,' WHO says, calling on world leaders to act – CNN

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