Tackling health impacts of climate change and scaling up digital climate action in the spotlight at COP28
Delegates at COP28 in Dubai on Saturday called for stronger and more resilient global health systems, which are indispensable to protecting populations from the negative impacts of climate change on health.
Ahead of the first ever ‘Health Day’ at a UN climate conference, delegates signed onto a new declaration on climate and health and separately considered the role of digital technology can play in climate action.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the new declaration, which aims to help accelerate actions to protect people from growing climate impacts, including by strengthening collaboration to reduce emissions and by increasing finance for climate and health solutions.
“The climate crisis is a health crisis, but for too long, health has been a footnote in climate discussions,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told delegates gathered in an auditorium in Dubai’s iconic Expo City, where much of the action at COP28 has been taking place this far.
According to WHO, the climate crisis drives the extreme weather that is taking lives around the world. Moreover, the same emissions that are warming our planet are also poisoning the air we breathe.
WHO estimates that air pollution kills some seven million people worldwide every year, while millions of people are exposed to extreme weather-related events each year.
Reducing the health impacts of climate change demands action across all of society, including steps to decarbonize energy systems to reduce emissions by at least 43 per cent over the next seven years.
“WHO thanks the [United Arab Emirates] for making health a key priority in its COP28 Presidency, and welcomes this Declaration, which emphasizes the need to build climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems, to protect the health of both planet and people,” Dr. Tedros added.
Declaration ahead of ‘Health Day’
Signed on Saturday by 123 countries, the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health acknowledges the need for governments to protect communities and prepare healthcare systems to cope with climate-related health impacts such as extreme heat, air pollution and infectious diseases.
It has been developed with the support of a number of ‘country champions’ including Brazil, Malawi, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Kenya, Fiji, India, Egypt, Sierra Leone, and Germany, according to the COP28 presidency.
“The impacts of climate change are already at our door. They have become one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st century. Governments have now rightly recognized health as a crucial element of climate action” said Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and COP28 President.
The Declaration covers a range of action areas at the nexus of climate and health, including:
- Building more climate-resilient health systems;
- Strengthening cross-sectoral collaboration to reduce emissions;
- Maximizing the health benefits of climate action; and
- Increasing finance for climate and health solutions.
Digital climate action
This second and final day of the COP28 World Climate Action Summit also featured an event on ‘Green Digital Action’ hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) spotlighting the role of digital technologies at the forefront of climate action.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) technologies are instrumental in climate monitoring, building resilience to climate change, and deploying early warning systems.
They can also play a vital role in mitigation efforts, including boosting energy efficiency, building green networks and assisting the transition towards a green economy.
However, the rapid uptake of data and devices increases the sector’s energy consumption, emissions, material use and e-waste worldwide.
“Green Digital Action is a step in the right direction, but we all have to do more. Now. Together,” ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin told the gathering at the Global Innovation Hub of UN Climate Change.
COP28 is an opportunity to showcase the value of digital climate action as well as raise ambition to reduce the footprint of the ICT sector, contributing to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, according to ITU.
“We have to build a future where digital technology and climate action go hand in hand. This future is possible. It is our only choice,” the ITU chief added.
Following the high-level opening of the Green Digital Action Track, potential of technology for environmental solutions will be highlighted over the course of the next several days.