On Sunday, discussions at the U.N. climate talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates centered around the impact of rising global temperatures on human health.
In Dubai, the COP28 conference continued after two days of inspiring speeches and appeals for harmony among high-ranking officials, shifting the focus to health concerns such as the estimated 7 million deaths caused by air pollution annually and the impact of climate change on weather patterns leading to the spread of diseases like cholera and malaria.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, stated that it is crucial for the U.N. Conference of Parties on climate to host its inaugural health day during its 28th meeting. He emphasized that the dangers posed to human health by climate change are pressing and current.
“Despite the fact that the climate crisis is also a health crisis, it is concerning that 27 COPs have passed without any significant discussion on the topic of health,” he stated. “Clearly, the issue of health serves as a strong motivation for implementing measures to address climate change.”
Following two days of addresses from numerous heads of state, government officials, and other prominent figures, the focus has now shifted to challenging discussions over the next nine days in order to strive for greater consensus on measures to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) since the start of the industrial era.
On Saturday, the COP28 presidency declared that 50 oil and gas companies have committed to achieving almost zero methane emissions and discontinuing routine flaring in their activities by 2030. They also promised to attain “net zero” for their operational emissions by 2050.
The promises made do not meet the necessary requirements, according to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
During the Sunday comments, Guterres referred to the decrease in methane emissions as a positive move. However, he expressed disapproval of the net zero commitment for disregarding emissions from fossil fuel usage, which is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gases produced by the industry. He also noted that the announcement lacked details on the companies’ strategies for achieving their objectives.
He stated that there should be no space for greenwashing.
The increase in temperature resulting from the combustion of oil, gas, and coal has exacerbated natural calamities such as floods, heat waves, and drought. It has also forced many individuals to relocate to regions with milder climates, in addition to having detrimental impacts on human health.
The U.S. climate envoy, John Kerry, expressed surprise that the topic of health has not been a focal point in conversations about climate for a significant amount of time.
Kerry stated that our bodies and the world are both ecosystems. Therefore, if we contaminate the land, water, and air, we are ultimately harming our own bodies.
According to him, his daughter Vanessa, who works with Tedros, often reminds him that measuring progress on the climate crisis should not be based solely on the amount of degrees avoided, but also on the number of lives saved.
The declaration of COP28, supported by approximately 120 nations, emphasized the connection between health and climate change. Although it did not address the gradual elimination of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming, it promised to assist in reducing pollution from the healthcare industry. The World Health Organization director reported that this sector is responsible for 5% of worldwide emissions.
According to Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, who leads the WHO’s efforts on climate and health, heat alone has caused physical strain and increased the likelihood of infectious diseases.
Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, the head of climate and health at WHO, stated that we can be certain that climate change is causing deaths even without it being listed on a death certificate.
Dubai, the biggest city in the wealthy United Arab Emirates, frequently experiences elevated levels of air pollution compared to other locations on the planet. This is largely due to its geographical location, and haze is a frequent occurrence. The city is situated on the shoreline of the Persian Gulf, with the Empty Quarter, a vast desert that covers a significant portion of the Arabian Peninsula, lying inland.
The growth of the city has resulted in quick building, industrial zones, and car-related pollution, which adds to the effects of sand and dust stirred up by the winds from the desert. Currently, there are 3.5 million residents in Dubai, a significant increase from 183,000 in the past 50 years. Additionally, it is estimated that another million people commute into the city each day for employment.
The Dubai government’s environmental website reported that the Air Quality Index level was mainly classified as “good” on Sunday. According to IQAir, a technology company from Switzerland, Dubai ranked as the 18th most polluted city in the world on Sunday with “moderate” air quality levels. This was due to elevated levels of two types of particulate matter in the air. For the safety of “sensitive groups,” mask-wearing was recommended and outdoor exercise should be limited.
Jon Gambrell and Peter Prengaman, writers for the Associated Press, contributed to this report.
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