Almost three decades after the world first came together to tackle climate change, its impact on human health has been at the center of discussions this month in Glasgow, Scotland.
The 26th meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP26, featured a pavilion that hosted dozens of events discussing health threats from climate change. More than 400 health organizations from over 100 countries have signed a letter urging stronger action on climate change to protect human health.
But as the new COP26 deal pledges to move away from coal, stop deforestation and cut methane emissions, along with other goals to reduce warming, analysts say it won’t. fails to specify the specific adverse health effects andefforts needed to remedy it.
The importance of doing so isn’t limited to small islands and developing countries – the problem is urgent in the United States, with communities of color disproportionately endangered.
When it comes to addressing health and climate, experts like Dr Renee Salas, an emergency physician at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, specializing inlink between the two, said equity must be central.
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“Climate justice is environmental justice, and it is fundamental for us to take a holistic approach in all sectors, whether it is urban planning or transport, so that their policies have clear impacts on the environment. health and can either advance or hinder equity, “said Salas.
She said an emergency “triage” approach is needed to provide health protections and resources to American communities on the front lines of climate change.
“We have to make sure those with the most pressing issues are taken care of first,” she said. “We need to make sure that health and equity guide our response, in addition to motivating us to take action.”
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Natasha DeJarnett, environmental health expert and professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, was happy COP26 finally presented a health agenda, but said policies and regulations need to catch up with science.
“We have known that the climate has been a threat to health for some time,” she said, citing reports that found race to be a primary predictor of the location of dangerous facilities emitting toxins. “We’ve known for decades that the dirtiest looking places kill more people. But we also know that even small decreases in air pollution correspond to significant increases in life expectancy.
Air pollution and excessive heat are linked to many health problems, including cardiovascular health issues.
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Environmental activist Lisa Deville, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes of the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota, said she was happy to see deals to reduce methane.out of the world conference, but wants more stringent methane emission policies at state and local levels that prioritize health.
Funding is needed, she said, for local research efforts to collect baseline pollution levels to guide such a policy. Deville said she and her husband had breathing problems from oil well flares connected to pipelines.
The Dakota Access Pipeline transports oil from Fort Berthold. The reserve is located on the oil-rich Bakken Formation, where an oil and gas boom has brought the tribes new wealth – and new concerns.
“We’ve been heavily mined here,” said Deville, chair of Fort Berthold’s land and water rights advocates and the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “We live right next to the flares surrounding our community.”
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An academic on climate change and health,Kristie Ebi is a professor at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington. She noted the irony that the most vulnerable communities in the United States have contributed the least to climate change in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and are suffering the most.
She said a “better culture of preparedness” is key to health equity in the face of climate change. For example, climate assessments have sounded the alarm on the vulnerability of coastal hospitals to flooding.
“You have hot spots of particularly vulnerable populations in particularly vulnerable places… It’s the people and it’s the infrastructure,” Ebi said. “We can’t necessarily stop the floods. We can’t stop the heat waves, but almost all deaths from floods and heat waves are preventable.”
Dr John Balbus, acting director of the new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in the Biden administration, said he was “energized” by the focus of the global summit on climate change in as a public health crisis.
“We see ourselves as a catalyst for action,” Balbus said of the new office, which is responsible for working with federal agencies and divisions to advance equity issues. “I came back from COP26 really energized to be as much as possible this link with the communities, to make sure that their voices are heard and that their concerns are taken into account. “
Contact Nada Hassanein at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nhassanein_.