Durban Climate Deal Not Enough to Prevent Severe Impacts on Health. We Need To Act.

by Cristina Tirado


L-R: Todd Stern, Christiana Figures and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

At the close of the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban (COP17), government delegates from around the world agreed to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change known as the “Durban Platform,” with implementation to begin as soon as possible but no later than 2015. Work on this future agreement will begin immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

Leaders also agreed on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, to begin January 1, 2013. 35 industrialized countries that are Parties to this second period will turn their economy-wide targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives and submit them for review by May 1, 2012.  The Durban agreement includes the launch of the Green Climate Fund as well as the establishment of an Adaptation Committee and a Technology Mechanism, which are to become fully operational in 2012.

At the conclusion of the conference, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres stated, “While it is clear that these deadlines must be met, countries, citizens and businesses who have been behind the rising global wave of climate action can now push ahead confidently, knowing that Durban has lit up a broader highway to a low-emission, climate resilient future.”

The decision to move toward a unified system, with all countries having some form of legal commitments, offers an opportunity for the US to play a more participatory and constructive role in the future.

However, the climate deal in Durban is not ambitious enough to prevent the severe impacts of climate change on health, nutrition security, and human well being. The objective of keeping the rise in global average temperatures below 2ºC would be only achievable if there is an immediate and drastic reduction of emissions; currently, a 3-4ºC rise appears to be the most likely outcome. This will have a significant negative impact on health and nutrition security around the world.  We need to act.

PHI’s Center for Public Health and Climate Change actively participated at the COP17, providing background papers, organizing events and raising awareness of the urgency to ensure that health, nutrition security, gender and risk reduction issues are properly addressed in the climate negotiations.

The Center partnered with  the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN) and Action Against Hunger (ACF) to co-sponsor a high level event, “Nutrition and Climate Change: Making the Connection to Enhance Livelihood Resilience, Health and Women’s Empowerment,” where we launched the paper,“Enhancing women’s leadership to address the challenges of climate change on nutrition security and health” (produced by PHI, WFP, UNSCN and ACF). This paper was widely distributed at the COP17 including to the UNFCCC executive secretary Figueres; the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra Pachauri; and the president of the COP17 Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

The Center also contributed to the panel on co-benefits at the first global Climate and Health Summit, at which 30 leading health NGOs and organizations from around the world including PHI co-signed and released a Declaration and a Global Call to Actioncalling for “bold and substantive action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect and promote public health.” Read more about the Summit.

In addition, the Center participated at the WEDO/CARE event “Addressing the gender dimension of vulnerability: An adaptation framework that works for everyone,” contributing to a round table discussion on the complexities of health and nutrition, and wasinterviewed by CC TV as part of COP17’s Gender Day.

A PHI statement released at the start of COP17 urged nations to collaborate and to give greater attention to health in the COP17 negotiations.  Read more about the Center’s activities in Durban..

While the Durban climate conference has avoided total failure and faster catastrophic destruction of the planet, the decisions adopted there fall well short of what is needed to protect human health and the most vulnerable communities at home and worldwide. Now it is up to us to work together across sectors to promote the co-benefits for climate, health and equity of sustainable development, sustainable production, sustainable consumption and waste reduction.

Education, global solidarity, and an embrace of our responsibility as citizens of the world are the only ways to create a climate for health.

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