UN agencies highlight climate change’s impact on human security, health

5 June 2007

The heads of two United Nations agencies today marked World Environment Day with calls for decisive action to address climate change, warning of its potential risks on human security and health.

The heads of two United Nations agencies today marked World Environment Day with calls for decisive action to address climate change, warning of its potential risks on human security and health.

In his message for the Day – commemorated every year on 5 June – Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), observed that climate change is “magnifying existing disparities between rich and poor” and “aggravating tensions over fragile or increasingly scarce natural resources” such as productive land and freshwater.

“It increases the potential to create a new class of displaced people known collectively as environmental refugees,” Mr. Steiner warned.

He stressed that collective and decisive political will is “the final – and still missing – piece in the jigsaw puzzle.”

While many sectors of society are moving to deal with climate change – including local authorities, industry, the financial sector and civil society – the collective political process, he said, is moving “frustratingly slowly.”

Referring to this year’s theme, Melting Ice: A Hot Topic?, Mr. Steiner urged people everywhere to ask their political leaders and elected representatives: “Just how much hotter does this topic need to become before Governments across the globe finally act?”

Meanwhile, the head of the UN health agency highlighted in her message the close relationship between health and the environment, noting that 60,000 deaths from climate-related natural disasters occur every year, the majority in the developing world.

“Limiting the impact of climate change is about saving lives and livelihoods, as much as it is about protecting the natural environment,” Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said.

She stressed the need to strengthen public health systems, the “first line of defence against climate-related health risks.” Also, noting that prevention is just as important as a cure, she said many of the actions that are necessary to reduce the impact of humans on the global climate can also reduce pollution and save lives now.

“Reducing our impact on the global climate requires individuals, communities and governments to make the behaviour and policy changes – such as cleaner energy and more sustainable transport systems – that will also bring immediate health benefits.”

World Environment Day was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to raise global awareness of the environment and boost political attention and action.

 

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