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7th November 2022

Health leaders call on Alok Sharma to put health at the forefront of discussions at COP27

Thirty seven health leaders from organisations across the UK have called on COP26 President Alok Sharma to use his leadership at COP27 to put health at the forefront of discussions.

Health has not had the prominence it deserves in COP meetings. Without urgent action there will be catastrophic harm to health, but with action there will be benefits to health.

The health leaders, who represent organisations from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, welcome Sharma’s recent calls for more urgency, including for major emitters to step up and increase ambition.

Read the letter from health leaders to Alok Sharma here

Chair of the Alliance, Richard Smith said: “Health leaders are deeply concerned about the impacts of climate change on health. It is clear that not enough is being done to tackle the crisis and it is critical that this COP delivers that urgent action that is needed to bring down emissions. The global north created the planetary crisis, but Africa and the global south are suffering and will suffer the most. Negotiations at COP27 must deliver justice for vulnerable nations both financially and technically.”

Referencing the 2022 Lancet Countdown published in October, the leaders say that despite the health harms of global warming, governments and companies continue to prioritise fossil fuels to the detriment of people’s health, while at the same time high-income countries have failed to deliver the US$100 billion commitment to support a just transition.

They say, “COP27 will be a pivotal point for national governments to demonstrate how they will deliver and implement legislation and policies in their home countries to meet obligations to the Paris Agreement, and to make progress in the four priority areas of mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and finance.”

The letter outlines specific policy recommendations for global and national implementation and highlights the recent publication of an editorial co-authored by 16 African biomedical journal editors saying, “it is imperative that the suffering of frontline nations is at the core of COP27 negotiations because in an interconnected world, environmental shocks in vulnerable nations have severe consequences for all nations.”

President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Camilla Kingdon said: “As a paediatrician, it’s distressing to see that health is still not at the centre of discussions in COP meetings. The health and wellbeing of our society and future generations lies at the heart of action on climate change.

“Recent reports from UNICEF finds that currently one in four children are impacted globally by climate change and by 2050 almost every child in the world is predicted to experience frequent heatwaves. The direct impact on children means day-to-day activities like play and school are compromised. Young children are more likely to become unwell and die. Indirectly, heatwaves cause crop failures leading to hunger, malnutrition and even forced migration. 

“This is a child health issue and we must speak up on behalf of those who cannot.”

Professor Andrew Elder, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: “The College is pleased to join with a broad alliance of health leaders across the UK to set out our key priorities for COP27. These priorities relate to human health and the changes we require to prevent the negative impacts of climate change affecting more and more people across the globe. 

“It is vital that COP27 builds on the work of COP26 and sees international governments commit to more ambitious targets on reducing emissions. Furthermore, COP27 must ensure that climate justice funding from wealthier nations actually reaches the vulnerable countries that are often at the forefront of dealing with the significant consequences of climate change.”

Professor Claire Anderson, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “The impact of climate change on health is becoming more and more stark, especially in the global south. The letter published today demonstrates there’s consensus from healthcare leaders across the UK that health should be a priority at COP27 and that urgent action is needed to bring down emissions”. 

“We hope that our calls are listened to and put into action by our political leaders at the COP27 negotiations”. 

Lancet Countdown UK Policy Brief

Editorial from African editors