This year’s Earth Day theme promotes environmental and climate literacy. Global citizens need to be empowered with information and facts to act in defense of our planet.
WHO estimates that 12.6 million people die each year as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment, contributing to nearly one-quarter of deaths around the world. Similarly, a WHO assessment concluded that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. This is a future we must avoid if we are to achieve our universal health coverage targets. That is why the health impacts of climate change are among my five priorities as candidate for Director-General of the WHO.
Climate change and variations particularly impact many aspects of life that are inextricably linked to health: food security, economic livelihoods, air safety and water and sanitation systems. Gender differences in health risks are likely to be worsened by climate change. There is evidence to show women and men suffer different negative health consequences following extreme weather events.
Fortunately, there is renewed global commitment to tackle climate change and implement the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement underlines the urgency to implement climate action in support of sustainable development. Opportunities exist not only to tackle environmental health risk factors, including air safety, food security and water and sanitation, but also to transform the development of health care delivery systems by using low-carbon, and more environmentally friendly approaches.
I’ve seen firsthand that shifts in weather patterns wrought by climate change are devastating millions in my country Ethiopia. In communities affected by extreme weather events or climate variations, vulnerable populations suffer most. Ethiopia has a robust response, designing development policies with a view to mitigating the impact of climate change. I am proud to say that in the fifth edition of the Global Green Economy Index released in September 2016, Ethiopia is ranked 14 globally in terms of climate change performance. In 2014, we were the 26th position on the same list.
My experience in Ethiopia helped shape my vision for WHO. We need to promote evidence-based decision-making and awareness. Specifically, we need to advocate for research and development, champion and support global and regional coalitions, and strengthen national capacity. Another necessary action is to secure funds to address health impacts of climate change. We must advocate for increased financial allocations at the global, regional and national levels. Finally we need to promote sustainability by championing the use of low-carbon approaches in the health sector, including in facility construction, waste management, transportation and water, as well as procurement and supply chain systems.
Putting environmental and climate literacy in the public debate will lead to innovative solutions and increased country commitment. This is how we will fully honour the Paris Agreement. Now is the time to take the positive and concrete actions that can still avert the possible catastrophe of climate change before it is too late.