The World Health Organisation is today welcoming government ministers, health practitioners and climate change experts to Geneva to discuss the the health risks of climate change. The headline topic will be the need to tackle the devastating effects of burning fossil fuels on the climate and on health. The worst offender is burning coal, which releases pollutants associated with a range of human health problems including asthma and cancer. The WHO has identified air pollution as a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths, estimating that it is already causes 7 million deaths worldwide. Dr Margaret Chan, head of the WHO, today deemed air pollution the “largest single environmental health risk” the world faces. And media reports published today on the leaked drafts of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, likewise confirm that moving away from fossil fuels means a healthier climate and cleaner air. Global health is also being affected by the impacts of climate change including extreme weather, infectious diseases and food and water shortages. The poorest and most vulnerable populations are suffering most and this trend will get worse as temperatures rise. As climate change moves again to the top of the international political agenda in the run up the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York next month, health experts are signally that bold action on climate change is the responsible way forward for a healthy public and a healthier public purse.

Climate change is described as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” and health experts are meeting in Geneva today to discuss the risk climate change poses to global public health. The devastating air pollution produced by burning fossil fuels with its links to a range of health problems including asthma and cancer will be the key concern, The World Health Organization has estimated that air pollution was responsible for around 7 million deaths worldwide in 2012.
Climate change is already affecting world health, especially the poorest and most vulnerable populations. As re-confirmed by leaked drafts of the IPCC’s latest report, rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events already increase heat-related illnesses, enhance the spread of disease, reduce crop yields and threaten access to clean water, and could result in forced migration, conflict and social disruption. Bold climate action will save huge numbers of lives and produce significant cost savings in the health sector. Direct damage to health from climate change is expected to cost the world US$ 2-4 billion a year by 2030.
The WHO climate summit is taking place at a critical time in the fight against climate change. The outcome of this week’s summit will inform the work of the WHO, doctors and governments in the months and years to come. It will also have a wider reach, feeding – along with recommendations from other sectors – into the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York next month.Together, medical experts, religious leaders and progressive business are building a clear case for a faster transition away from fossils and towards clean renewables. The pressure is now on government leaders to acknowledge this and act accordingly in New York and ultimately agree a strong global climate agreement at the 2015 UN talks in Paris.