Category: WHO

Health must be put at the heart of national climate plans

Health must be put at the heart of national climate plans

By Jeni Miller

For seven decades, the World Health Organization has used April 7th, World Health Day to bring important health issues to public attention. This year, as the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic, the theme is “building a fairer, healthier world for everyone”.

With November’s COP26 fast approaching, this World Health Day message should inspire governments to both take responsibility and to seize the opportunity to commit to ambitious emissions reductions targets, aligned with the Paris Agreement, in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and to make health and equity a central focus of national climate policies.

Right now, many countries are in the process of reviewing their climate commitments and are soon expected to announce updates. They can, and must put health front and centre. The United States, having just re-entered the Paris Agreement, will host a climate leaders’ summit on Earth Day, April 22. To successfully generate international momentum during this summit, the US must step forward with a strong commitment of its own; this is a chance for President Biden to show real climate leadership and recognition of the lessons learned during the pandemic, by fully integrating health into the US Nationally Determined Contribution. Other world leaders must not wait around for US leadership- they must step up their ambitions – and action.

To say there is much to do would be an understatement. A recent UN report found that by 2030, the total GHG emissions of 75 countries responsible for 30% of global emissions are projected to be less than 1% lower than in 2010, falling dangerously short of the 45% reduction in emissions required during this time period if the goal of the Paris Agreement is to be met. The countries responsible for 70% of global emissions are yet to go public with updates to their national climate commitments.

Prolonging this inaction – or taking action that falls far short of what is needed — furthers the risk of endangering both the health of the planet, and of us, the people who depend on its wellbeing for our own health.

In 2020, The World Health Organization and associations representing over 40 million health professionals called for a “green and healthy” COVID-19 recovery. The pandemic has taught that health must be part and parcel of every government policy – including climate policy. A multinational study of doctors’ and nurses’ understanding of and views on climate change, which will be published on 7 April by The Lancet Planetary Health, found that a vast majority of survey respondents believe the health community should have a say in pushing for national policies that will protect health by meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement.

Healthy populations are a prerequisite for economic recovery, while strong health systems are essential to increase resilience to future crises, such as changing infectious disease patterns and extreme weather events.

This is why our organisation, the Global Climate and Health Alliance, plans to release a scorecard by mid-year, to rank progress of countries towards the inclusion of health within national climate commitments – or “Healthy NDCs”, as they prepare for COP26.

Win-win solutions that both protect health and mitigate climate change have never been more relevant than at this moment of economic fragility. Economic well-being is essential to human health; societies that are more economically equitable — where there is less disparity between the wealthiest and the least wealthy — have better health outcomes for all of their citizens. Greater economic equity brings benefits to everyone’s health.

The health impacts of economic disparity have been laid bare by the pandemic. And our most impoverished communities, and low income countries, also suffer disproportionately from climate change impacts.

A country with a healthy national climate action commitment will recognise the impacts of climate change on health, and the need for health and equity to be integrated into adaptation planning. It will set out interventions that reduce emissions and also offer immediate and local health benefits, such as improved air quality, healthier diets, and increased physical activity. Such a country must be ambitious enough to do its fair share to limit warming to 1.5C. Health benefits of climate solutions will help offset the economic costs of climate mitigation and adaptation. Governments can protect their citizens’ health – and prevent millions of untimely deaths – by embedding health in national climate policies.

A paltry 1% reduction in GHG emissions would spell disaster for citizens of every country. Governments must seize this moment to urgently reorient current trajectories for the sake of people worldwide, and for generations to come.

The Global Climate and Health Alliance is calling on governments to ensure that national climate action commitments include:

  • Ambitious commitments for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, aligned with with Paris Agreement target of 1.5C
  • Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that mitigate climate change and also maximise health benefits – such as by improving air quality, and supporting walking and cycling and public transport use.
  • Calculation of the associated health costs savings, with health impact assessments that demonstrate these health and economic gains.
  • Adaptation strategies which incorporate health and commit investments to build climate smart and resilient healthcare and public health systems.
  • Within and beyond NDCs, Covid-19 recovery investments must align with healthy national climate action/commitments, to protect people, the planet and economies, securing a healthy and sustainable future.

This article was originally published on Climate Home News.

I’m a climate scientist – here’s three key things I have learned over a year of COVID

I’m a climate scientist – here’s three key things I have learned over a year of COVID

By Piers Forster

The planet had already warmed by around 1.2℃ since pre-industrial times when the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic on March 11 2020. This began a sudden and unprecedented drop in human activity, as much of the world went into lockdown and factories stopped operating, cars kept their engines off and planes were grounded.

There have been many monumental changes since then, but for those of us who work as climate scientists this period has also brought some entirely new and sometimes unexpected insights.

Here are three things we have learned:

1. Climate science can operate in real time

The pandemic made us think on our feet about how to get around some of the difficulties of monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, and CO₂ in particular, in real time. When many lockdowns were beginning in March 2020, the next comprehensive Global Carbon Budget setting out the year’s emissions trends was not due until the end of the year. So climate scientists set about looking for other data that might indicate how CO₂ was changing.

We used information on lockdown as a mirror for global emissions. In other words, if we knew what the emissions were from various economic sectors or countries pre-pandemic, and we knew by how much activity had fallen, we could assume that their emissions had fallen by the same amount.

By May 2020, a landmark study combined government lockdown policies and activity data from around the world to predict a 7% fall in CO₂ emissions by the end of the year, a figure later confirmed by the Global Carbon Project. This was soon followed by research by my own team, which used Google and Apple mobility data to reflect changes in ten different pollutants, while a third study again tracked CO₂ emissions using data on fossil fuel combustion and cement production.

The latest Google mobility data shows that although daily activity hasn’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, it has recovered to some extent. This is reflected in our latest emissions estimate, which shows, following a limited bounce back after the first lockdown, a fairly steady growth in global emissions during the second half of 2020. This was followed by a second and smaller dip representing the second wave in late 2020/early 2021.

Shows a drop in pollution during April 2020, then a recovery, then another drop in December 2020
Global changes in pollution levels from lockdown for carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (NOx) and eight other pollutants. Data is compared to 2019 levels. Piers Forster

Meanwhile, as the pandemic progressed, the Carbon Monitor project established methods for tracking CO₂ emissions in close to real time, giving us a valuable new way to do this kind of science.

2. No dramatic effect on climate change

In both the short and long term, the pandemic will have less effect on efforts to tackle climate change than many people had hoped.

Despite the clear and quiet skies, research I was involved in found that lockdown actually had a slight warming effect in spring 2020: as industry ground to a halt, air pollution dropped and so did the ability of aerosols, tiny particles produced by the burning of fossil fuels, to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away from the Earth. The impact on global temperatures was short-lived and very small (just 0.03°C), but it was still bigger than anything caused by lockdown-related changes in ozone, CO₂ or aviation.

Looking further ahead to 2030, simple climate models have estimated that global temperatures will only be around 0.01°C lower as a result of COVID-19 than if countries followed the emissions pledges they already had in place at the height of the pandemic. These findings were later backed up by more complex model simulations.

Green park and city skyline with blue sky.
Clear skies over usually-polluted Bangkok, Thailand, during lockdown in May 2020. Puiipouiz / shutterstock

Many of these national pledges have been updated and strengthened over the past year, but they still aren’t enough to avoid dangerous climate change, and as long as emissions continue we will be eating into the remaining carbon budget. The longer we delay action, the steeper the emissions cuts will need to be.

3. This isn’t a plan for climate action

The temporary halt to normal life we have now seen with successive lockdowns is not only not enough to stop climate change, it is also not sustainable: like climate change, COVID-19 has hit the most vulnerable the hardest. We need to find ways to reduce emissions without the economic and social impacts of lockdowns, and find solutions that also promote health, welfare and equity. Widespread climate ambition and action by individuals, institutions and businesses is still vital, but it must be underpinned and supported by structural economic change.

Colleagues and I have estimated that investing just 1.2% of global GDP in economic recovery packages could mean the difference between keeping global temperature rise below 1.5°C, and a future where we are facing much more severe impacts – and higher costs.

Unfortunately, green investment is not being made at anything like the level needed. However, many more investments will be made over the next few months. It’s essential that strong climate action is integrated into future investments. The stakes may seem high, but the potential rewards are far higher.

This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Artur D. on Unsplash.
Taking action on air pollution at city level to build urban resilience

Taking action on air pollution at city level to build urban resilience

By Emma Marsden and Bulganmurun Tsevegjav 

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on 8–9 October hosted a regional inception workshop to kick start the implementation of the regional technical assistance titled “Strengthening Knowledge and Actions to Improve Air Quality” (TA 9608) at the ADB headquarters in Manila. The TA addresses urban air pollution, which has become a serious environmental and social problem in many of Asia’s cities, posing a major health risk, among other negative impacts, to their residents, particularly vulnerable groups.

About 98 percent of cities in Asia experience levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) beyond the internationally recognized World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guideline.1 Given this high level of exposure, several questions arise: What are the main causes and consequences of urban air pollution in Asian cities? Are national and city governments taking adequate measures to address the problem? How can city governments, including the energy and transport sectors, best tackle urban air pollution at the city level? How can lessons learned and best practices adopted in other countries and cities, such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), be shared?

These questions sit behind the TA outputs and were at the heart of the dialogues during the regional inception workshop.

Major Sources of Air Pollution Presented in the Workshop. Source: Clean Air Asia. 2014. Mainstreaming Air Quality in Urban Development through South–South Twinning.

Highlights of the workshop

Around 80 participants (40% female) from government, non-governmental organizations, and civil society attended the workshop. Participants included national and city government officials from the five developing member countries (specifically, seven cities) targeted by the TA: Bangladesh (Faridpur), Mongolia (Erdenet), Pakistan (Peshawar and Sialkot), the Philippines (La Trinidad), and Viet Nam (Ho Chi Minh and Vinh Yen). Representatives from WHO and the International Labor Organization, academia, ADB Youth, and international health, energy, transport, and finance experts were also in attendance.

The two-day event was designed so that city-level participants without any technical knowledge of air quality management could benefit from the workshop sessions as much as the experts. The first sessions introduced the basic concepts of urban air pollution, major sources, and how it affects public health.

Conversations around air pollution are often focused on the perception that it is the outside air that is the most polluted. However, participants heard that in some countries indoor air pollution levels can be even higher that outside, and therefore cities also need to address it alongside outdoor air pollution. Policy and legislative, institutional, technological, and financial solutions, including low carbon technologies and the use of market-based instruments for air pollution control, were presented.

Following this, city representatives were given the opportunity to present the urban air pollution challenges they face in their cities and how the TA through its support for developing a Clean Air Action Plan can aid their current efforts.

Overall, the objectives of the remaining sessions were to: 

  • Provide information on the TA including project background, the overall approach, method, scope and deliverables.
  • Introduce the process of Clean Air Action Plan development, including case study examples from Mongolia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam.
  • Provide an opportunity for the country and city representatives to discuss their air quality issues and to prepare a draft of the workplan for development of the City-Level Clean Air Action Plans.

Following the regional inception workshop, city-level inception workshops are being held, from which the City-Level Clean Air Action Plans will be developed. To inform the action plans, the TA will refer to existing baseline data, and the TA team will also collect new data on the air quality situation and undertake analytical studies at the city level to fill in knowledge gaps.

Furthermore, policy and legislative, institutional, technological, and financial solutions will be evaluated, taking on board lessons learned and best practices from other countries and cities, including a technology transfer event planned for the PRC in late 2020.


Image: Indoor Air Quality Can Have a Large Impact on Health Outcomes in Cities. Source: B Tsevegjav, Presentation on Indoor Air Quality: Case from Mongolia. TA 9608 Regional Inception Workshop.

Background of the project

The TA project aims to increase the commitment of the selected countries to improve air quality management, helping the target cities to build a business case for investment through the preparation of City-Level Clean Air Action Plans, and investment plans that will see to its implementation.

The TA has three main outputs (also detailed in the diagram below):

  •  Output 1 focuses on “assessment” of air quality status and capacity for air quality management at city level, including monitoring of air quality levels in secondary cities using low cost monitors, which will help to raise political and public awareness and provide the scientific basis for taking action.  
  • Output 2 is oriented towards “solutions” and is intended to help cities identify applicable and deliverable policy and legislative, technological, and financial solutions to tackle their air pollution sources as identified by Output 1.   
  • Output 3 intends to build on these two outputs to “mainstream air quality management” through the development of City-Level Clean Air Action Plans that are backed by investment roadmaps and have stakeholder buy in.
Image: Key outputs of the ‘Strengthening Knowledge and Actions for Air Quality Improvement’ project

This article was originally posted on the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities Blog.
Cover Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash