GENEVA - Ahead of the U.N. Climate Change conference later this month in Paris, the World Health Organization is calling for strong measures to promote and protect health to be included as a central part of the global environmental agreement under negotiation.
The World Health Organization estimates tens of thousands of people are dying every year because of climate change; but, it says countries negotiating a treaty are paying little attention to health aspects associated with it. These include shifting patterns of disease, extreme weather events and the degradation of air quality.
WHO's public health and environment director, Maria Neira, says it is wrong to think of the climate change treaty as only about the environment or sustainable development.
“Of course, it is about that, but it is very much as well about health. For us, the treaty that will be signed in Paris is a public health treaty and, if it is a good one, it will probably be the most important public health treaty of this century," said Neira.
The WHO reports massive health benefits are to be gained from making the decisions needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, WHO scientist and team leader on climate change, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, says cutting emissions of short-lived pollutants, that is black carbon, methane and tropospheric ozone, will benefit health and the environment.
“Measures that would counter short-lived climate pollutants would save about 2.4 million lives a year by 2030 and also reduce warming globally by about a half degree centigrade; but, the immediate argument is really the health argument, you could save all of those lives by cleaner energy decisions," said Campbell-Lendrum.
The WHO also estimates 7 million people died from air pollution-related diseases in 2012. It predicts climate change will kill an additional 250,000 people per year from malaria, diarrhea, heat stress and under-nutrition between 2030 and 2050.
The U.N. agency says there is strong evidence that climate change will worsen the health gap between the rich and the poor; but, it notes all populations are vulnerable to a greater or lesser extent from the health problems that will arise due to the issue.