Burning fossil fuels causes 13 deaths every minute, WHO reports

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Coal [Courtesy]

Air pollution, primarily from burning fossil fuels, which also drives climate change, is causing 13 deaths per minute worldwide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported.

The report on actions to sustain a healthy and green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic says bringing down air pollution to WHO guideline levels, for example, would reduce the number of global deaths from air pollution by 80 per cent, while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

The WHO says the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the intimate and delicate links between humans, animals and the environment.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, says the same unsustainable choices that are killing the planet are killing people. “WHO calls on all countries to limit global warming to 1.5°C – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is in our own interests. The 45 million doctors and health professionals worldwide call for national leaders to step up climate action,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.

Maria Neira, the WHO Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, says a shift to more nutritious, plant-based diets in line with WHO recommendations, as another example, could reduce global emissions significantly, ensure more resilient food systems, and avoid up to 5.1 million diet-related deaths a year by 2050.

A letter from health professionals across the world explains that wherever they deliver care, in hospitals, clinics and communities around the world, they are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change. “We call on the leaders of every country to avert the impending health catastrophe by limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and to make human health and equity central to all climate change mitigation and adaptation actions,” they say in a statement.

WHO and the medical professional concerns come as unprecedented extreme weather events and other climate impacts damage people’s lives, health and property.

They say increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heat waves, storms and floods, kill thousands and disrupt millions of lives, while threatening healthcare systems and facilities when they are needed most. “Changes in weather and climate are threatening food security and driving up food-, water- and vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, while climate impacts are also negatively affecting mental health,” the doctors have said.

Back home, petroleum is Kenya’s major source of commercial energy, and has, over the years, accounted for about 80 percent of its commercial energy requirements.

But the country is already an African renewable energy leader.

For the year ending June 2019, geothermal power contributed 44 per cent of Kenya Power’s electricity purchases. The arrival of Lake Turkana Wind Power project resulted in 10 per cent contribution.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, speaking during the commissioning of the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, said Kenya was the only African nation to reach the goal of making renewable energy 75 per cent of its energy mix. He reiterated that at the Unite Nation’s COP26 in Glasgow, UK, last November.

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