Doctors and agencies push for public health agenda in climate change talks

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 12 October 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4190
  1. Rory Watson
  1. 1Brussels

    Medical and non-governmental organisations are pressing the European Union to give more priority to the health repercussions of climate change negotiations, as governments struggle to agree new commitments to tackle global warming before the end of the year.

    The Standing Committee of European Doctors, the Health and Environment Alliance, the Climate and Health Council, and Health Care Without Harm presented the European Commission on 6 October with a prescription for a healthy planet.

    Their diagnosis identifies overconsumption of fossil fuels and global climate destabilisation. As treatment, they recommend that the EU push for a strong agreement to promote a healthy climate at the Copenhagen negotiations taking place shortly before Christmas. This should include protection of public health, transition to clean energy, reduction of emissions, and finance for global action.

    The prescription, which was handed over to the EU health commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, is part of a wider move to inject the health community’s contribution into the Copenhagen debate to extend the original Kyoto agenda and help build a global network for climate friendly health care after the negotiations.

    Michael Wilks, president of the Standing Committee of European Doctors, said that the medical profession has to have the courage of its convictions and lobby politicians to emphasise the “catastrophic” health implications of a failure to tackle climate change.

    “Doctors have an ethical responsibility if you take the wider concept that all humanity is our patient. The health of populations is all our concerns,” he said.

    At the same time, just as Lord Stern in his 2006 report succeeded in dramatically drawing attention to the economic consequences of climate change, Dr Wilks would like to see a similar analysis into the impact of global warming on public health.

    The message was echoed by Michael Gill, a member of the Climate and Health Council’s board. “Health, not the economy or the environment, is the bottom line of climate change. There is a good story to tell about the health benefits of mitigating action,” he said.

    Although the full impact of investment in tackling climate change may only become evident in the longer term, he said that the commitment is likely to bring earlier health benefits, particularly in developing countries, as air pollution and other environmental dangers are reduced.

    Anja Leetz, executive director of Health Care Without Harm Europe, called on the EU to allocate at least €35bn (£32bn; $51bn) a year to fight global climate change, with a specific percentage targeted at the health sector.

    “It is disappointing that none of the climate change funding is explicitly directed at health. Experts consider global warming to be potentially the biggest threat in the 21st century, yet health arguments are not taken on board and acted upon,” she said.

    By increasing the EU’s current target of a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 to 30%, the non-governmental organisations estimate that the annual public health savings would rise from €52bn to €76bn.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4190

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