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The climate crisis is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. Health professionals and health workers recognize their ethical obligation to speak out about this rapidly growing crisis that could be far more catastrophic and enduring than the COVID-19 pandemic: they urge governments to live up to their responsibilities by protecting their citizens, neighbours, and future generations from the climate crisis.

On 11 October, an urgent appeal to national leaders and country delegations was issued by the health community, calling for real action to address the climate crisis. Over 450 organisations representing over 45 million health workers, together with over 3,400 individuals from 102 different countries have signed the appeal, in total representing ¾ of the world’s health workforce.

The appeal puts forward 6 specific demands, including the call to all nations to deliver a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels, starting with immediately cutting all related permits, subsidies and financing for fossil fuels, and to completely shift current financing into development of clean energy; and to update national climate commitments to commit their fair share of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees and build health into those plans.

The appeal was coordinated by the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), with HEAL as one of the collaborators and  initial signatory. Dr Tedros, the Director General of the WHO also signed the appeal personally.

With the letter, the WHO also launched its COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health, a health call for urgent climate action. . The 10 recommendations in the COP26 Special Report propose a set of priority actions from the global health community to governments and policy makers, calling on them to act with urgency on the current climate and health crises. Recommendations include to commit to a healthy recovery, to harness the benefits of climate action, to reimagine urban environments, transports, and mobility, and to listen to the health community. WHO also recommends to create energy systems that protect and improve climate and health, with a phase out of fossil fuels as the first action point. They were developed in consultation with over 150 organisations and 400 experts and health professionals, one of which was HEAL.

This year’s COP is undoubtedly one of the most important ones in the UN’s history. Following the summer of extreme weather events across Europe and the world, the new evidence from the IPCC Special Report, as well as the ongoing calls from Fridays for Future and civil society, it is clear that this COP cannot end with a business-as-usual conference declaration. This year’s gathering has to end with a clear commitment for swift decarbonisation in this decade, and a commitment to end subsidising all fossil fuels. Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency already made clear that if we are to keep the Paris Agreement goal, there must not be any new financing for fossil fuels.

The health sector’s call for urgent action also comes at the right moment for the European Union. In July, the EU Commission launched the Fit for 55 package to implement the bloc’s 2030 GHG reduction goal. If policy-makers are serious about protecting our health, then they have to support stronger decarbonisation measures in the package, including upping the share of renewables by 2030. The Lancet Countdown recently warned that Europe is the continent with the highest vulnerability for heat-related impacts of climate change. With the EU Recovery and Resilience Fund, there is also an unprecedented opportunity to shift public financing from climate-harming and polluting economic activities, to sustainable and health-promoting endeavours. 

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