Washington, DC, 10 December 2018 (OPS/OMS)- Ministers of Health from MERCOSUR and Associated States have signed a declaration to place health at the front and center of national climate change adaptation plans. This aims to ensure that health systems become climate resilient, and that health prevention and promotion are fully integrated with climate services, as per recommendations from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
The declaration was signed at the XLIII Meeting of Health Ministers of MERCOSUR and Associated States, which took place on 23 November in Montevideo, Oriental Republic of Uruguay. It comes at a time when leaders from all over the world are gathering at the 24th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) in Katowice, Poland. There, countries will discuss the implementation plan for the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to coordinate informational efforts to reduce global warming.
“Climate change has increasingly become a huge threat to both health systems and public health in the Region of the Americas.”
Climate change has been deemed “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Indeed, climate and weather impact health in a variety of ways, including via extreme weather and disasters, heatwaves, food and water contamination, and an increase in vector-borne diseases. Climate and weather changes also impact socioeconomic systems which can affect public health, including through food and water insecurity, resource scarcity and forced displacements.
“Climate change has increasingly become a huge threat to both health systems and public health in the Region of the Americas,” said Dr. Marcos Espinal, Director of Communicable Diseases and Environmental Determinants of Health at PAHO. “It is vital that countries in the Region commit to fully integrating health into all their climate change adaptation plans. The Mercosur declaration is a great example of this commitment.”
Impacts of climate change on health are already being felt throughout the Americas. Rising temperatures can provoke heat stroke, particularly in the elderly, and increase the duration of droughts and the risk of wildfires. Over the past two years alone, more than 200,000 people in the Americas were displaced as a result of forest fires, and millions of dollars incurred in structural damages.
Rising temperatures also increase the number of intense tropical storms and floods hitting the Region, with 335 climate-related disasters occurring between 2005 and 2014, a 14% increase from the previous decade. In 2017, more than 625,000 people were affected by intense rains in Peru, and over 270 deaths were registered in Colombia due to mudslides. Climate change is also likely to expand the geographical distribution of vector-borne diseases.
PAHO is working to support regional initiatives and actions on climate change and health, including through the provision of capacity building and technical support for multi-hazard early warning systems, and on the preparation of Health National Adaptation Plans to Climate Change (N-NAPs). PAHO is also supporting the health sector to lead by example, through sustainable procurement and the implementation of “Smart” health care facilities, which aim to increase their resilience to disasters while reducing their environmental impact.
The Mercosur declaration
The Mercosur declaration commits Ministries of Health of member countries to lead the development of health strategies as essential elements of National Climate Change Adaptation Plans (H-NAPs). These strategies focus on recognizing health vulnerabilities relating to climate change and propose ways to increase health system resilience and reduce inequalities.
The declaration also commits countries to generate evidence on health and climate change in order to develop indicators, facilitate information exchange and inform decision-making.
Health and climate change at COP24
COP24 is taking place in Katowice, Poland, from 3-14 December 2018. The primary aim of the Conference is to come to a consensus on how countries should implement the Paris Agreement and report their progress.
On 5 December, the World Health Organization launched its report – COP 24 Special Report: Health and Climate Change. This Report highlighted that while there has been positive progress in tackling health and climate change issues, there is still a long way to go. The report provides a series of recommendations for governments on how to maximize the health benefits of tackling climate change and avoid the worst health impacts of this global challenge.