UN agency teams up with insurer, medical school to study climate change impact

18 September 2003

A United Nations development agency is joining a Swiss global insurer and a United States medical school in an innovative research partnership to evaluate health and economic damages from climate change and associated events, which currently run at $40 billion annually and are projected to reach $150 billion by 2010.

The two-year project by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Swiss Re and Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment was launched at UN Headquarters in New York with a two-day conference earlier this week bringing together leading scientists and health researchers from across the world to project the future health impact of climate change and biodiversity loss, especially in poor countries.

Drawing on funding and expertise from all three partners, it will focus on four key areas linked to climate change: heat waves and air pollution, as exemplified by the recent lethal heat wave in France, Portugal and Spain with numerous deaths, widespread wildfires and crop failures; changing patterns of infectious diseases, such as conditions underlying the recent spread of West Nile Virus; volatile, extreme weather, posing hazards for life and livelihoods, travel, trade, tourism, and infrastructure; and the impact on biodiversity because of degraded ecosystems.

"While climate change and biodiversity loss are global problems, their debilitating effect on human livelihoods and well-being is most severely felt by the poor in developing countries, threatening decades of development efforts," UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said.

"By providing critical information that will help countries better cope with climate variability and protect their ecosystems, this initiative can play an important role in helping the world meet the Millennium Development Goals," he added, referring to the targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, ranging from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education, all by 2015.

UNDP's poverty reduction efforts include assessing the impact of global environmental change and assisting developing countries in mitigating these potentially devastating impacts. An estimated 96 percent of disaster-related deaths occur in the developing world, yet 90 percent of developing countries lack disaster-related insurance coverage.

UNDP's goal is for this study to expand the potential of the insurance and broader financial services industries to operate in the developing world.


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