Majid Al Suwaidi, COP28 director general, among others at the first Forecasting Healthy Futures (FHF) Summit. Image Credit: Samihah Zaman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The upcoming COP28 summit will dedicate an entire day to highlight the links between climate change and health, and to push real action that mitigates these risks, the conference’s director general announced in the capital today.

“We will have a health day at COP28, where we will work with member states and partners to ensure that we are breaking down silence, and we will bring together ministers’ policymakers, and practitioners from health, finance, climate, energy, and other sectors,” Majid Al Suwaidi, COP28 director general, said at the first Forecasting Healthy Futures (FHF) Summit.

The FHF Summit itself comes amid mounting concerns about the adverse impacts of climate change on human health, and on disease control and elimination efforts. Gathering global health, climate and technology experts, the three-day meet aims to create an action roadmap in the run-up to COP28.

Harm to millions

Speaking in a video address, World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus once again said highlighted that the climate crisis is a health crisis.

“Extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, land degradation, and food and water scarcity have a profound impact on the health of millions of people. The effects of global warming will only accelerate unless we take action now to tackle the root cause of climate change,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.

“We must urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and work to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. We must embrace strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change, such as using innovative technologies, investing in climate resilient health systems, and having a well-trained and decentrally paid health workforce,” he added.

Building resilience

The WHO and the United Kingdom COP26 presidency established the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health in 2021, with the UAE as one of 60 signatory countries.

“Our conversations today at the FHF Summit, and our work together in the lead up to COP 28, can help us realise the ambitions set by this alliance to build climate resilient and sustainable health systems,…and promote the integration of the climate change and health nexus,” Al Suwaidi said.

He called on delegates to develop a “clear, achievable roadmap to COP28 that brings together a diverse range of stakeholders from the health sector to ensure that public health is elevated in the climate agenda, and is leveraged as a moment to make progress on the climate resilience of healthcare systems”.

Health risks

FHF is itself a consortium of health and tech organisations that work to ensure climate change does not hamper global disease elimination efforts. It was launched by Reaching the Last Mile, a portfolio of global health programmes driven by the personal philanthropy of UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

At the inaugural FHF summit, experts from the Lancet Countdown, a global initiative that tracks the impact of climate change on public health, shed light on some of the health risks that have increased as global temperatures rise, including dengue and malaria transmission, heatwave-related illnesses, fire danger, and the risk of exposure to extreme weather events like drought.

“It is therefore crucial that we increase the resilience of our health systems, and we adapt to climate change to cope with these pressures,” said Dr Marina Romanello, executive director at the Lancet Countdown.

Primary prevention

She also urged delegates to push for climate change mitigation, calling it primary prevention because an increase in global temperatures above the 1.5 degree Celsius target will put too much pressure on health systems.

“Any more [of an increase in global temperatures] will be impossible [for health systems] to adapt to,” Dr Romanello warned.

Climate change risks

-98 million more people suffered from food security in 2020 due to extreme heatwaves, more than any other year between 1981 and 2010.

-People from vulnerable age groups, such as infants and the elderly, were exposed to 3.7 billion more heatwave days in 2021 than annually in 1986–2005.

-29% more global land area on average was affected by extreme drought for at least one month per year in 2012–21 than in 1951–1960.

-12% more likelihood of dengue transmission from 1951–1960 to 2012–2021.

-Source: The Lancet Countdown