Health professionals want shift from fossil fuels ahead of COP 28

Civil Societies, under the umbrella of Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), in collaboration with Slow Food Kenya took part in a local climate caravan in Nakuru City on November 14, 2023, ahead of COP28. [Joseph Kipsang, Standard]

A coalition of 46.3 million healthcare professionals has urged the COP 28 president to shift from fossil fuels ahead of the global climate summit.

This comes at a time when health experts and African Group of Negotiators Experts Support push for mainstreaming of health agenda at all COP proceedings.

For the first time in the history of climate talks, a dedicated day for health discussions has been scheduled, providing a platform to address the direct impacts of climate change on individual well-being and healthcare systems.

However, a preliminary look at the draft climate and health declaration has raised concerns. Fossil fuels, the primary driver of climate change, seem to be omitted from the document, highlighting a critical oversight that the healthcare community is determined to address.

In 2020, a staggering 40 million health professionals came together, advocating for "clean investments" post-COVID-19. Last year, medical journals across the globe declared climate change the "greatest threat to global public health." The urgency is palpable, with air pollution from fossil fuels causing 7 million premature deaths annually, surpassing the toll of the entire Covid-19 pandemic.

Martin Muchangi, Director for Population Health and Environment at AMREF stated in Kenya, we witness the health implications of climate change firsthand. From the spread of water-borne diseases after floods to the strain on healthcare infrastructure, the interconnectedness of climate and health is undeniable. 

“We need a paradigm shift, not just in our energy sources but in how we approach these challenges collectively,” Muchangi said.

In a bid to push for a "just, equitable and healthy future for all." the professionals have penned a letter to the COP 28 president, calling for a decisive shift away from fossil fuels for a "just, equitable, and healthy future for all." 

The letter, supported by the World Medical Association, World Federation of Public Health Associations, and International Council of Nurses, highlights three key demands.

The first plea is that fossil fuel industry representatives be excluded from climate negotiations, echoing a precedent set with the tobacco industry in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Dr Lujain Alqodmani, President of the World Medical Association, emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, "As representatives of the global medical community, we fully support this letter. We are already seeing the impacts of the climate crisis on our health - heat stress, malnutrition, anxiety, vector-borne diseases, respiratory illnesses due to dirty air, to name a few."

They want the inclusion of health-focused programmes within the UNFCCC structures, allowing them to advocate for a health-centered approach to climate action.

Prof Luis Eugenio de Souza, President of the World Federation for Public Health Associations, underscored the crucial role of the health sector in the transition away from fossil fuels. He stated, "To protect public health from climate change, the health sector must become a leading voice for a rapid, just, and equitable transition away from fossil fuels."