COP26, Day 9: Climate-linked health risks to rise, COP26 panelists warn

    10 Nov 2021

    If you thought the COVID-19 pandemic was disruptive and deadly, climate change would be so much worse. So said a slew of panelists щт Тщмуьиук 9 at the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, warning about escalating climate-linked health threats such as disease, heatstroke and air pollution.

    But they also called out the health systems in rich nations as part of the problem, with the healthcare sector responsible for up to 5% of global carbon emissions.

    “We need to recognize the role of health systems as emitters,” said Rachel Levine, the U.S. assistant secretary of health. “We cannot stand back and only tell others what they should do to protect our patients.”

    The main sources of emissions from the healthcare sector include the manufacture and transport of medical goods, as well as the construction and operation of hospitals and clinics.

    On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced dozens of governments had committed to reduce emissions in their health systems or to transition entirely to net-zero.

    Speakers also called on countries to get ready for more climate-linked illnesses and casualties.

    Already, climate change is worsening food and water security, while deadly heatwaves and floods are testing communities around the world.

    Medical systems are often being strained if not damaged by these same types of events.

    Fiji’s U.N. Ambassador Satyendra Prasad described the challenge of keeping medical facilities open in the midst of superstorms and floods that are battering the Pacific island nation.

    “It’s quite tragic when your doctors and nurses are themselves being evacuated, when they should be providing front- line services,” he said.

    Fiji is also seeing more waterborne diseases in the flooding after storms, he said.

    Vulnerable countries need money to move medical facilities to higher ground and to train health professionals to deal with climate-linked health issues, he said.

    Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now the WHO ambassador on global health finance, called on rich countries to keep their promise to provide $100 billion a year in climate financing for poorer nations. That money, he said, could be used to bolster healthcare worldwide.

    Doctors have said the best way to prevent spiraling public health dangers is to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.

    An editorial run in 233 health journals urged the same, saying that passing the 1.5° C threshold risks “catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse”.

    “Although COVID has been a deadly disease, climate change will take more lives in the next 50 to 100 years than anything that that [the coronavirus] disease will do,” Brown said. “We need to keep 1.5 degrees alive to keep millions of people alive.”

     

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    Cop26: world on track for disastrous heating of more than 2.4C, says key report

    Research from world’s top climate analysis coalition contrasts sharply with last week’s optimism, The Guardian reports.

    The world is on track for disastrous levels of global heating far in excess of the limits in the Paris climate agreement, despite a flurry of carbon-cutting pledges from governments at the UN Cop26 summit.

    Temperature rises will top 2.4° C by the end of this century, based on the short-term goals countries have set out, according to research published in Glasgow on Tuesday.

    That would far exceed the 2° C upper limit the Paris accord said the world needed to stay “well below”, and the much safer 1.5° C limit aimed for at the Cop26 talks.

    At that level, widespread extreme weather – sea-level rises, drought, floods, heatwaves and fiercer storms – would cause devastation across the globe.

    The estimate stands in sharp contrast to optimistic forecasts published last week that suggested heating could be held to 1.9C or 1.8C, thanks to commitments announced at the talks, now in their second week and scheduled to end this weekend.

    Those estimates were based on long-term goals set out by countries including India, the world’s third-biggest emitter, which is aiming for net-zero emissions by 2070.

    By contrast, the sobering assessment of a rise of 2.4° C from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), the world’s most respected climate analysis coalition, was based on countries’ short-term goals for the next decade.

     

     

    Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, one of the organisations behind CAT, told the Guardian: “We are concerned that some countries are trying to portray [Cop26] as if the 1.5C limit is nearly in the bag. But it’s not, it’s very far from it, and they are downplaying the need to get short-term targets for 2030 in line with 1.5° C.”

    Emissions will be twice as high in 2030 as they need to be to stay within 1.5° C, based on promises made in Glasgow, CAT found. Scientists have warned that beyond 1.5° C, some of the damage to the Earth’s climate will become irreversible.

    The analysts also found a chasm between what countries have said they will do on greenhouse gas emissions and their plans in reality. If current policies and measures are taken into account, rather than just goals, heating would rise to 2.7° C, based on the CAT analysis.

    The findings should serve as a “reality check” to the talks, said Niklas Höhne, one of the authors. “Countries’ long-term intentions are good, but their short-term implementation is inadequate,” he told the Guardian.

    The 197 parties to the 2015 Paris agreement were asked to come to Glasgow with two aims: a long-term goal of reaching global net zero emissions around mid-century; and shorter-term national plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), pegging emissions reductions to 2030. Scientists say greenhouse gas emissions must fall by about 45% this decade for global temperatures to stay within 1.5° C of pre-industrial levels.

     

     

    Countries responsible for about 90% of global emissions have signed up to net zero goals, mostly by around 2050 for developed countries, rising to 2060 for China and 2070 for India, but the NDCs for actions in the next decade do not match up. The climate responds to the cumulative carbon in the atmosphere, so if emissions are high enough in the next two decades the world could surpass the 1.5C limit even if carbon reaches net zero later.

    “It’s great that countries have long-term net zero targets, but they need to close the gap with short-term measures,” said Hare.

    Stephen Cornelius, the chief climate adviser to WWF, who was not involved in the CAT research, said: “While it is encouraging to see some progress under the Paris agreement, the global warming projections released today shine a grave spotlight on how weak country 2030 targets really are.

    “It’s impossible to reach 1.5° C on promises made today alone. We urgently need to see our leaders delivering credible action, powerful policies and ambitious funding now, if people and planet are to thrive tomorrow. We won’t forget which leaders stepped up when they needed to.”

    The first week of the Cop26 talks was dominated by a rush of announcements, including commitments on preserving forests, private sector finance for clean energy, and countries phasing out coal. Some of these quickly started to unravel as countries appeared to renege or clarify some of their commitments.

    At the start of the second week of the fortnight-long talks, sharp rifts are appearing between countries that want tougher action, specifically to force countries to revise their NDCs annually if they are not in line with 1.5° C, and others wanting to stick to the Paris timetable of five-yearly revisions. There are also disputes about how countries should monitor emissions, and over climate finance for poor countries.

    Hare noted there was no contradiction among the varying assessments, published last week by Melbourne University and the International Energy Agency, as they came to similar conclusions based on long-term goals. CAT also found in its “optimistic scenario” that if all targets countries had promised were fully met, temperatures would rise by 1.8° C.

    The UN environment program updated its analysis of the “emissions gap” between the cuts needed to stay within 1.5° C and those offered by governments. UNEP found that with the recently announced pledges by China, Saudi Arabia and others, temperatures were likely to rise by between 1.9° C and 2.1° C, but like the IEA and Melbourne estimates, that depended on long-term pledges being fully implemented.

    Hare said many of the long-term goals countries had set out lacked credibility. He pointed to Brazil, Australia and Russia. “We are concerned that there is not a seriousness of purpose at Cop26. It’s very hypothetical, getting to net zero in 2050,” he said.

    Höhne said countries must agree to revise their NDCs every year if they were found insufficient, adding: “If we came back every five years that would be a very bad choice. If countries agree to come back every year, they would have a chance of closing the gap.”

    Jennifer Morgan, the executive director of Greenpeace International, said: “This new calculation is like a telescope trained on an asteroid heading for Earth. It’s a devastating report. We have until the weekend to turn this thing around. That means countries agreeing how they’re going come back next year and every year after that until the gap to 1.5° C is closed. The ministers shouldn’t leave this city until they’ve nailed that.”

    Labour’s Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, said: “The test of Cop26 has always been what concrete commitments it would deliver by 2030, the decisive decade to keep 1.5° C alive. This report is an important reality check on the government’s attempt to greenwash Glasgow.”

    A Cop26 spokesperson said: “We know that the window to keep 1.5° C alive is closing but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that it is still achievable. As today’s reports make clear, we’ve seen genuine progress in the first week of Cop26, but we have a lot more to do.”

     

     

    1 bn people will suffer extreme heat at just 2° C heating, say scientists

    Climate crisis is driving up a deadly combination of temperature and humidity, says study released at Cop26, The Guardian reports.

    A billion people will be affected by extreme heat stress if the climate crisis raises the global temperature by just 2C, according to research released by the UK Met Office at the Cop26 climate summit. The scientists said that would be a 15-fold increase on the numbers exposed today.

    The key goal of Cop26 is to keep the chance of limiting global heating to 1.5° C alive but delegates said there is much work to do to achieve this in the summit’s final week.

    The Met Office assessed wet-bulb temperature, which combines both heat and humidity. Once this measure reaches 35C, the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even healthy people sitting in the shade will die within six hours. The Met Office analysis used a wet-bulb temperature limit of 32° C, at which workers must rest regularly to avoid heat exhaustion, for at least 10 days a year.

    If efforts to end the climate emergency fail and temperatures rise by 4C, half of the world’s population will suffer from this extreme heat stress.

    Heat is the most obvious impact of global heating and extreme heat in cities across the world has tripled in recent decades, according to a recent study. In the summer of 2020, more than a quarter of the US population suffered from the effects of extreme heat, with symptoms including nausea and cramps.

    At least 166,000 people died due to heatwaves around the globe in the two decades to 2017, according to the World Health Organization. The UK government has been repeatedly warned by its official climate advisers that the country is “woefully unprepared” for increased heat, particularly in vulnerable locations such as hospitals and schools.

    People with hoses attempting to extinguish forest fires approaching the village of Pefki, on Evia island, Greece, in August.

    The Met Office analysis is derived from research from the EU-funded Helix project, which also maps the rising risks of river flooding, wildfires, drought and food insecurity. Virtually the entire inhabited world is affected by at least one impact.

    Andy Wiltshire, at the Met Office, said: “Any one of the climate impacts presents a scary vision of the future. But, of course, severe climate change will drive many impacts, and our maps show that some regions will be affected by multiple factors.”

    Tropical countries including Brazil, Ethiopia and India are hardest hit by extreme heat stress, with some parts being pushed towards the limit of human liveability. But Prof Albert Klein Tank, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, said: “These maps reveal areas of the world where the gravest impacts are projected to occur. However, all regions of the world – including the UK and Europe – are expected to suffer continued impacts from climate change.”

    Scientists have been warning about deadly levels of heat and humidity for some years. A 2015 study showing the Gulf in the Middle East, the heartland of the global oil industry, set to suffer heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival if climate change is unchecked.

    The deadliest place on the planet for extreme future heatwaves will be the north China plain, one of the most densely populated regions in the world and the most important food-producing area in the huge nation, according to 2018 research.

     

     

    World designed by men has destroyed many things,’ Cop26 warned

    Climate crisis cannot be ended without the empowerment of women, politicians and campaigners tell summit, The Guardian states.

    “The world as designed by men has destroyed many things,” Cop26 delegates have been told, as leaders and campaigners warned that the climate crisis could not be ended without the empowerment of women.

    Women and girls around the world suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate breakdown, as they are on average poorer, less educated and more dependent on subsistence farming. A UN report found 80% of those displaced by the climate emergency are women.

    The focus on gender equality on Tuesday saw indigenous women and politicians including Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, demand increased investment.

    Angelica Ponce, executive director of the Plurinational Authority for Mother Earth in Bolivia, said: “The world as designed by men has destroyed many things. The world should begin thinking like women. If it was designed by a woman, it would end violence against women and children.

     “We want to be in the corridors of power and take part in decisions at international level to end this struggle of climate justice,” she said. “As indigenous women, we live day-by-day the cruel reality of climate change in our land.”

    Sturgeon said: “When world leaders gathered here last week, of the 120 or so, a tiny minority were women – that needs to change and it needs to change quickly. There is no doubt, we must ensure that climate change is a feminist issue. [But] women are not pleading to be supported. We’re demanding to be empowered.”

    Alok Sharma, the UK minister and president of Cop26, said: “We know from our efforts to tackle climate change that it is more effective when we put women and girls at the heart of those efforts.”

     

     

    Climate-related events will prevent at least 4 million girls in lower-income countries from completing their education in 2021, he said, citing a Malala Fund report. On current trends, the climate crisis will contribute to at least 12.5 million girls not completing their education each year, the report said.

     “That is an absolute travesty and a dangerous one,” Sharma said. “Because, as well as being a fundamental good in itself, education empowers girls and equips them to deal with the effects of climate change and to take climate action.” He announced that the UK was giving £165m to tackle climate change while addressing gender inequalities.

    Per Olsson Fridh, Sweden’s minister for international development cooperation, told Cop26: “Women are not the polluters of this world, yet, they carry the consequences of climate change on their shoulders. Without a gender perspective, we miss out on invaluable knowledge needed for a sustainable green transition. A feminist approach is simply the only smart thing to do.”

    Pelosi said: “If I ruled the world, the one thing that I would do is invest in the education of women. When women succeed, the world succeeds.”

    Åsa Regnér, from UN Women, said: “Only 3% of the climate overseas development aid actually targets women’s rights and gender equality specifically. The UN, with its convening power, should really address that because as long as we don’t have the resources, little will happen.”

     

     

    Some countries announced the climate projects they funded would have to incorporate gender equality. Patricia Fuller, Canada’s climate change ambassador, said: “As part of the doubling of Canada’s climate finance pledge to C$5.3bn (£3.1bn) over five years, Canada will apply the target of 80% for projects that will target gender equality outcomes. If we are to win the fight against climate change, we need to have women participating equally in climate action.”

    Germany also announced that gender justice was to become a “guiding principle” for its €4.5bn (£3.8bn) International Climate Initiative.

    Diaka Selena Koroma, an ActionAid climate activist from Sierra Leone, witnessed the devastating mudslides that hit Freetown in 2017 and was meant to attend Cop26, but her visa did not arrive in time.

     

     

    “If women and young people who are most affected by climate impacts are not represented at platforms like Cop26, leaders will not feel the pressure to commit to climate targets,” she said.

    Sophie Rigg, also at ActionAid UK, said: “It is all well and good hosting a dedicated ‘gender day’, but the UK government must commit to making sure that all UK financing on climate also tackles gender inequality.”

    Sharma said: “We have the [UN climate convention’s] Gender Action Plan, agreed back in 2019. But what we actually need is for every single country to implement this plan and to be guided by the UN Women-convened Feminist Action for Climate Justice Coalition, which launched earlier this year.”

     

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    What happened at Cop26 – day eight at a glance

    Let’s read the summary of the main developments on the previous, eighth day of the UN climate summit in Glasgow, prepared by The Guardian.

    The legitimacy of the Cop26 climate summit was called into question by a number of organizations that said restrictions on access to negotiations were unprecedented. Groups said that being shut out of key negotiations would have dire consequences for millions of people.

    October 2021 was the third warmest in recorded history, according to the EU’s Earth observation programme Copernicus, with temperatures 0.42C higher than the 1991 to 2020 average.

    The fossil fuel industry has the largest delegation at Cop26, according to campaigners, who say the sector has a bigger group than any other country. Analysis of the UN’s provisional list of attenders suggest 503 delegates have affiliations to oil, gas or coal firms.

    Barack Obama called on world leaders to “step up now” and criticised China and Russia for a “dangerous absence of urgency” on the climate crisis. He also says some version of Biden’s ambitious $555bn (£409bn) climate package will pass in Congress in the coming weeks.

    But China is doing more for the climate than it is given credit for, according to a senior Beijing adviser who said the country already has concrete actions in place, not distant targets like other countries.

    Meanwhile, protesters gathered in Glasgow for the Scientist Rebellion protest. The group has been banned from the city centre after blocking a bridge over the weekend, when 21 activists were arrested. One academic said not acting on the climate crisis “might just be the worst crime in human history”.

    Police broke into a building providing shelter for climate activists and delegates in the early hours of this morning, occupants say. The squatted building in Glasgow – called Baile Hoose – was providing emergency accommodation for delegates who are unable to find a place to stay for the summit.

    Survivors of extreme weather associated with the climate crisis have been speaking out at Cop26 on the day the summit focuses on “loss and damage”. Many people say they remain in the same vulnerable places where loved ones died and are now living in fear.

    Rich countries’ refusal to discuss loss and damage is “diplomatic bullying”, says Bolivia’s chief negotiator, Diego Pacheco Balanza. He said there has been a systematic attempt by developed countries to remove all discussion about compensation and direct climate finance from the negotiations.

    Rich countries must come up with emissions reduction plans and money to help developing nations deal with the climate emergency, says European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans. Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout said that Australia’s climate pledge is “literally a brochure”.

    Finally, African nations want to start open discussions at Cop26 about channelling $700bn (£520bn) every year from 2025 to help them deal with the climate crisis.

     

     

    Countries commit to develop climate-smart health care at COP26 UN climate conference

    A group of 50 countries have committed to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), in response to growing evidence of the impact of climate change on people’s health, WHO reports.

    The governments of these 50 countries, which include some of those most vulnerable to the health harms caused by climate change as well as some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, have committed to take concrete steps towards creating climate-resilient health systems. 

    Forty-five of these countries have also committed to transform their health systems to be more sustainable and low-carbon. Fourteen have set a target date to reach net zero carbon emissions on or before 2050. 

    The commitments were made as part of the COP26 Health Program, a partnership between the UK government, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Climate Champions and health groups, such as Health Care Without Harm.

    “The future of health must be built on health systems that are resilient to the impacts of epidemics, pandemics and other emergencies, but also to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and the increasing burden of various diseases related to air pollution and our warming planet,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. 

    “Health systems must also be part of the solution, by reducing carbon emissions. We applaud those countries that have committed to building climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems, and we hope to see many others following their lead in the near future.” 

    Countries that have committed to achieving low-carbon, sustainable health systems include Argentina, Fiji, Malawi, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America and 39 others. Countries that have committed to enhance the climate resilience of their health systems include Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Maldives, the Netherlands, and 45 others.

    The government of Fiji, for example, is responding to the increase in cyclones, flash floods, and rising sea levels causing lack of drinking water due to saltwater intrusion, by building more climate-resilient health infrastructure, strengthening the health workforce, and providing health care facilities with sustainable energy services.

    “The message from WHO and health professionals around the globe is clear: climate change is a huge health challenge and we need to act now. I’m really pleased to see so many countries prioritising this issue through the COP26 Health Programme and their level of ambition. Strong leadership from the health sector is vital to make sure we protect our populations from the impacts of climate change by enhancing the climate resilience of health systems, and by reducing emissions from the health sector,” said Wendy Morton, Minister for Europe and Americas, in the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

    The country commitments come off the back of a WHO survey, launched this week, which shows that the majority of countries now include health in their national climate plans to the Paris Agreement, but that plans often still lack detailed health actions or support mechanisms.

    “These government commitments exemplify the growing global health movement for climate action. Around the world doctors, nurses, hospitals, health systems and ministries of health are reducing their climate footprint, becoming more resilient and advocating for a just transition that puts health at the centre of a decarbonized civilization,” said Josh Karliner, International Director of Program and Strategy of Health Care Without Harm.

    In addition to the national commitments, 54 institutions from 21 countries representing more than 14 000 hospitals and health centers have joined the UNFCCC Race to Zero and committed to achieving net-zero emissions. 

    A record number of health leaders are participating at the COP26 UN climate conference, and more than 45 million health professionals, representing two-thirds of the world’s health workforce, have signed a letter urging governments to take stronger action, noting that “hospitals, clinics and communities around the world have already been responding to the health harms caused by climate change”.

    About the COP26 Health Program

    Health was selected as one of three science priority areas for COP26 by the UK government. As part of the COP26 Health Program, the COP26 Presidency is working alongside WHO, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and the UNFCCC Climate Champions to engage countries and stakeholders on climate and health.

    The COP26 Health Program has been established to bring stronger health focus and ambition to COP26. Initiatives under the COP26 Health Programme include: 

    • Building climate resilient health systems.
    • Developing low carbon sustainable health systems.
    • Adaptation Research for Health.
    • The inclusion of health priorities in Nationally Determined Contributions.
    • Raising the voice of health professionals as advocates for stronger ambition on climate change.

    Under the COP26 Health Program’s first commitment area, countries have committed to conducting climate change and health vulnerability assessments, and to develop national adaptation plans for health.

    Under the program’s second commitment area, high ambition/high emitter countries commit to setting a target date by which to achieve net-zero emissions health systems and develop an action plan or roadmap to achieve sustainable, low carbon health systems. 

    The latter is significant to global mitigation efforts: the health sector accounts for 10% of global GDP and is a substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for around 4.6%. 

     

     

    Country quotes

    “The health co-benefits from climate actions are well evidenced and offer a strong argument for transformative changes.” Director of Public Health, Dr. Morenike Alex-Okoh, MoH, Nigeria.

    “The government of Malawi recognizes the essential role of the health sector to ensure a successful COP26, and has committed to strengthen the climate resilience of its health systems, while developing low carbon health systems… as a way of contributing to the targets of the Paris Agreement,” Hon. Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Minister of Health Malawi.

    “The climate change extreme effects and damages on the public health of Sao Tome and Principe population, require urgent multisectoral integrated measures and actions alongside the communities engagement with partners, to be low carbon ensuring and to increase the resilience, both on the National Health System” – Edgar Manuel Agostinho Azevedo das Neves, Health Minister, Sao Tome and Prinicpe.

    “In the midst of the pandemic, we had to recover from extreme weather events and manage the resulting health impacts. [It] has shown us that health systems and facilities are the main line of defense in protecting populations from emerging threats … and that now is the time to increase our commitment to a safer, and more sustainable and inclusive future for all.” Hon. Ifereimi Waqainabete, Minister for Health and Medical Services, Fiji.

    “This commitment is an important step for us to continue ongoing efforts and speed up the implementation of the adaptation and mitigation actions” Phonepaseuth Ounaphom, Director Department of Hygiene and Health Promotion, Ministry of Health, Lao PDR.

    “The Maldives Health Sector is fully committed to executing the National Green Climate Smart Hospital Policy and Strategy to establish a climate change resilient health system with environment friendly technologies resulting in energy efficient services and a low-carbon footprint.” Ahmed Naseem, Minister of Health, Maldives.

    “Ministry of Health and Prevention, in partnership with WHO, launched a comprehensive, multisectoral National Framework for Action on Climate Change and Health to develop sector-specific adaptation plan. UAE is also working towards reducing emissions and developing an action plan for a low-carbon health system” HE Dr. Hussain Abdulrahman Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary for Public Health, Ministry of Health and Prevention, United Arab Emirates.

    “Climate change is a health crisis of recent times in Nepal and a moral issue as per the fundamental rights of Nepalese people to enjoy good health. Enhancement of climate resilience and environmental sustainability of health services and facilities, and commitment to act together in building climate-resilient health systems are imperative to minimize the impacts of climate change on health.” – Dr. Samir Kumar Adhikari, Chief of Multisectoral Coordination, Ministry of Health and Population, Nepal.

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    You may read about 118 private jets that took leaders to COP26 climate summit burning over 1,000 tons of CO2 here.

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