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123 countries back COP28 health and climate declaration

 President William Ruto shakes hand with Bola Tinubu of Nigeria during the launch of the Africa Green Industrialization Initiative at Expo City, Dubai, on December 2, 2023, in Dubai. [PCS]

Health Day took center stage at the World Climate Action Summit as 123 countries endorsed the COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health.

In a historic move, nations joined hands to prioritize health in the fight against climate change, and over USD1 billion in climate health financing was mobilized.

The COP28 presidency, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, introduced the 'COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health.'

This declaration aimed to place health at the forefront of climate action, fostering the development of resilient, sustainable, and equitable health systems globally.

As part of the political commitments accompanying the declaration, several finance commitments were announced.

The Global Fund pledged USD300 million to prepare health systems, the Rockefeller Foundation committed USD100 million to scale up climate and health solutions, and the UK Government announced a contribution of up to GBP 54 million.

According to Ambassador Al Suwaidi, COP28 Director-General, this represents a historic acknowledgment of the growing health impacts of climate change on communities and countries.

“It emphasizes the significant benefits to public health resulting from robust climate action, including the reduction of air pollution and the lowering of healthcare costs,” he said.

The announcement comes at a time when the World Health Organization indicated that annual deaths from polluted air have surged to almost 9 million, heat-related illnesses and deaths are on the rise, and 189 million people are exposed to extreme weather-related events each year.

"The impacts of climate change are already at our door. They have become one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st century. Governments have now rightly recognized health as a crucial element of climate action," remarked COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization said: "The climate crisis is a health crisis, but for too long, health has been a footnote in climate discussions. And  make health a key priority in its COP28 Presidency and welcomes this declaration."

Countries that endorsed the declaration included Brazil, Malawi, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Kenya, Fiji, India, Egypt, Sierra Leone, and Germany. These 'country champions' played a pivotal role in the development of the declaration.

President of Malawi, Lazarus Chakwera, shared his country's firsthand experience of climate impacts. "Malawi has experienced these impacts first-hand - extreme weather events have displaced tens of thousands of our citizens and sparked infectious disease outbreaks that have killed thousands more.”

“This year, at COP28, we are calling for a bolder path forward that prioritizes investments in health and wellbeing, ensures a just transition away from fossil fuels, and creates a healthier future for all of us,” Chakwera said.

The COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health covers various action areas at the intersection of climate and health, emphasizing the need for more climate-resilient health systems, cross-sectoral collaboration to reduce emissions, and increased finance for climate and health solutions.

Signatories have committed to incorporating health targets in their national climate plans and improving international collaboration to address the health risks of climate change.

Finance was recognized as a significant driver of the declaration's success. The COP28 Presidency, along with partners like the Global Fund, the Green Climate Fund, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the World Health Organization, introduced ten principles to bolster financing for climate and health.

Over 40 financing institutions and civil society organizations endorsed these principles, signaling a collaborative effort to support climate and health solutions sustainably.

New initiatives were introduced to drive rapid decarbonization and reduce emissions by at least 43 percent over the next seven years to keep the 1.5°C target within reach.

December 3, designated as COP28's Health Day, witnessed the first-ever Climate and Health Ministerial at a COP. Ministers of Health and senior health delegations from over 100 countries attended.

As part of these efforts, the first-ever Climate and Health Ministerial aimed to mobilize global health ministers and build support for a global action agenda on climate and health. The day also featured the launch of the 'Getting Ahead of Disasters Charter,' outlining principles for collaborative action to manage climate-related risks and protect vulnerable populations.

The COP28 Presidency, IGAD, and the UN introduced a regional climate security strategy for the Horn of Africa. The COP28 Presidency partnered with the UN Secretary-General to mobilize new support for Early Warnings for All, an initiative to cover 100 per cent of the globe with early warning systems by 2027.

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