NEW YORK — Trying to lessen climate change's sweeping impact, experts are hoping that attempts to improve the sputtering global public health system and sometimes-stalled efforts to curb global warming through collaboration can combine — and create a better system for handling the problem along the way.
Leaders of both the World Health Organization and the upcoming climate negotiations said Monday that for the first time, they are going to devote a day during December climate talks to public health issues. By concentrating on how climate change is causing death and disease, they hope, nations may act more on the root cause: carbon pollution.
“Climate change is killing us, and climate change is a health crisis,” said Vanessa Kerry, the World Health Organization's special envoy for health and climate change, CEO of Seed Global Health and the daughter of U.S. climate envoy John Kerry. “We shouldn’t be measuring our failures in degrees Celsius but in lives lost.”
As Climate Week starts in New York, ahead of a special U.N. Climate Ambition Summit on Wednesday, leaders looked at health as a key part of the climate-change fight, saying better and more spending on health was crucial.
Meanwhile, police said more than 100 protesters were arrested while blocking the New York Federal Reserve. They were targeting Wall Street for its funding of coal, oil and gas that trigger global warming and were blaming President Joe Biden, whose administration fanned out across the city to underscore how seriously the United States takes the problem.
“The threats to health in our changing climate are right here and right now. The climate crisis is a health crisis,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. Reducing carbon and other air pollution “will save lives," he said. "The health of our future generations is at stake.”
A U.N. report earlier this month showed the world is way off track in its efforts to fulfill the 2015 Paris agreement and limit future warming, said Adnan Amin, the CEO of the upcoming climate talks, called COP28. So upcoming negotiations in Dubai are "one of the last chances you get to course-correct,” he said. And a day devoted to public health “is where you can actually get traction for change.”
“Lives and livelihoods are on the line all over the world,” said Sultan Al Jaber, the COP28 president. He said 7 million people a year around the world die from air pollution, which is not technically the same as the carbon dioxide and methane that cause warming but often comes from similar sources.
The small African nation of Malawi found out just how deadly global warming is from a health perspective earlier this year, when Cyclone Freddy killed hundreds of people and massive malaria outbreaks followed, said Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera.
He said much of Africa’s public health problems are connected to climate change. He and others mentioned the recent Libya flooding and said to expect public health problems in the future from that.
“At the heart of the fight against climate change is the need for adequate resources," Chakwera said at Monday's climate and health session.
Only 0.5% of the world’s financial aid goes to public health and climate change, Al Jaber said. “That,” he said, “is in no way acceptable or enough.”
Maybe talking about lives that can be saved by spending more money on adapting to a warmer world — but also cutting back on carbon emissions — is a positive message that could change the way negotiators and leaders think about fighting climate change, said Maria Neira, the WHO director of climate change, environment and health.
Hundreds of climate protesters had the world financial system in mind when they marched to the Wall Street area and blocked access to the New York Federal Reserve.
“It’s important to send a message to world leaders, to Joe Biden, to the financial sector down here on Wall Street that the climate crisis is upon us and (demonstrate) the level of urgency we need them to respond with,” said Jonathan Westin, an activist with Climate Organizing Hub.
Protestors have been targeting the fossil fuel industry and criticizing the United States' status as the No. 1 nation in the world in planning more future drilling for oil and gas.
“The one institution that can actually regulate Wall Street and make banks stop financing new oil, gas and coal infrastructure is the Fed,” said Alicé Nascimento, campaigns director for New York Communities for Change.
“They have that power. So we want to make sure that they know that they need to use that power.”
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