GENEVA — A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) calls climate change “the single biggest health threat facing humanity,” and it warns that the health impacts are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
The WHO’s COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health was released on Monday ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland.
The report spells out the global health community’s prescription for climate action based on research that officials say establishes the many links between climate and health.
The WHO says countries must set ambitious national climate commitments if they are to sustain a healthy and green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the intimate and delicate links between humans, animals and our environment,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people. WHO calls on all countries to commit to decisive action at COP26 to limit global warming to 1.5°C – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s in our own interests.”
The report concludes that protecting people’s health requires transformational action in every sector, including on energy, transport, nature, food systems, and finance. And it states that the public health benefits from implementing ambitious climate actions outweigh the costs.
In the report, the WHO highlights 10 priorities for safeguarding the health of people and the planet:
- Commit to a healthy, green, and just recovery from COVID-19.
- Place health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks.
- Prioritize climate interventions with the largest health-, social- and economic gains.
- Build climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable health systems and facilities, and support health adaptation and resilience across sectors.
- Guide a just and inclusive transition to renewable energy to save lives from air pollution, particularly from coal combustion. End energy poverty in households and health care facilities.
- Promote sustainable, healthy urban design and transport systems, with improved land-use, access to green and blue public space, and priority for walking, cycling, and public transport.
- Protect and restore natural systems, the foundations for healthy lives, sustainable food systems, and livelihoods.
- Promote sustainable and resilient food production and more affordable, nutritious diets that deliver on both climate and health outcomes.
- Finance a healthier, fairer, and greener future to save lives, transitioning toward a well-being economy.
- Listen to the health community and prescribe urgent climate action.
The WHO also mentioned the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change that was adopted at COP21 in Paris in 2015 and began to be enforced in 2016. Though former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement, current President Joe Biden brought the nation back in on his first day of office in January.
The WHO says achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement would save millions of lives every year due to improvements in air quality, diet, and physical activity, among other benefits.