Thursday, 8 December 2011

"We don’t want Africa to be the burial ground of Kyoto!"

On behalf of Wemos, Lietje Petri was in Durban, South Africa, where the annual climate conference of the United Nations took place. Climate change is becoming the greatest threat to global public health. Lietje was in Durban to exchange ideas for collaboration with organisations and networks from other countries and the Netherlands.

The first Global Climate and Health Summit ever took place last Sunday, 4 December 2011, in Durban where this year’s UN Conference on Climate Change is being held. This event, organised by a number of non-governmental organisations, brought together over 200 participants and delegates. The aim of the day was to raise awareness that climate change is the greatest global health threat of this century, to set out the evidence and to suggest ways forward. It was a day with many high quality presentations. Here follows an attempt to summarise some of the key messages coming from various speakers.

Despite all the pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions, global emissions went up last year with 6%. Very drastic carbon cuts are needed to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius to avoid dangerous climate change; without these, temperatures are set to rise with 6 degrees. Climate change affects the environmental determinants of health and leads to spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue; increased extreme weather events; more population migration due to droughts and floods with more risk of conflict. Effects are felt already everywhere, but mainly by poor countries who contributed least to the problem.

But there are ways forward, and health can contribute. For example, promoting less polluting vehicles and more active lifestyles will reduce carbon, whilst also reducing lung and heart disease and saving money; quantifications of the co-benefits for health and climate of such measures were presented, showing that reducing carbon emissions can go hand in hand with saving millions of lives and billions of dollars.

Several speakers pointed to the root causes behind climate change and the problems with reaching a fair new agreement in Durban: the power of big corporations; and the existing inequalities that make that the voice of rich countries is stronger than that of poorer countries. One of the African delegates had expressed his despair during the negotiations: "We don’t want Africa to be the burial ground of Kyoto!" For any agreement, it is key that it will be equitable.

The conference concluded with the endorsing and issuing of a
Declaration and an urgent Call to Action.
Lietje Petri, Wemos

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