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Our health is at risk if COP26 conclusions do not seize opportunities for a healthy, fairer future

12 November, 2021
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As the COP26 negotiations continue, EuroHealthNet and others urge recognition of the right to health, and of the detrimental impacts of the climate crisis on physical and mental health which are disproportionately felt by those already facing multiple disadvantages. Addressing climate change effectively will bring co-benefits for health. Changes are needed to create a sustainable future for the planet, and those changes must also lead to a fairer and healthier future for all its inhabitants.

This statement is endorsed by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, the European Environmental Bureau, the European Public Health Association, the Global Climate and Health Alliance, and the Council of Europe Development Bank.

It is likely that climate change will have catastrophic effects on health and inequalities. It is not too late to reduce these impacts, but much remains to be done. We must move to economies which acknowledge the boundaries of the planet and human health, incorporate equity in the green transition, and focus on the opportunities – inherent in the transition – to improve health, save lives, allow people to be able to contribute to society, and make health systems sustainable.
Today also marks the final plenary, organised by EuroHealthNet, of the 2021 European Public Health Conference, which focuses on climate change, social justice, and public health.

We believe that:

“Putting health and equity at the centre of climate action is essential, as set out in the WHO’s COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health. If the transition to a greener, healthier future is not equitable, it will not be successful. We recognise that the effects of climate change are experienced differently by different groups” – Dr Maria Neira, Director, Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organisation

“Our health is impacted greatly by the environments we live in – the food we eat, the air we breathe, our access to physical activity, and the jobs we do. By seizing opportunities for health co-benefits in commitments and strategies to address climate change, we can make our societies more resilient. Not all citizens or businesses will be convinced that change at such a large scale is needed or be good for them. To be successful, we must understand needs and concerns, and employ a ‘proportionate universal’ approach to solutions” – Caroline Costongs, Director, EuroHealthNet

We stress three principles:

Firstly, governments must help lead the transition to an economy and society that is regenerative and works within the limits of the planet, looking out for the wellbeing of current and future generations. It is important to embrace equity and responsibility and commit to leaving the planet in a fair state for our children and our children’s children.

Secondly, governments must ensure that all citizens, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background can benefit from the green transition. Solutions must be accessible, affordable, adequate, and attractive, motivating people to change and contribute. Solutions should be built in collaboration with and tailored for citizens from across different population groups. They should be just, and sensitive to people with lower capabilities to act. They should involve broad scale changes in infrastructure (e.g., greening built environments, particularly in poorer urban areas, and making infrastructure resilient to climate change) as well as price-based interventions (e.g., targeted support to engage with the green transition such as insulating homes, organic food or zero pollution mobility). For an inclusive transition which does not widen inequalities, we must make green options more affordable and accessible – and not only make bad ones more expensive.

Thirdly, policymakers need to ensure that the green transition is viewed as an opportunity rather than a burden, fostering a race to the top rather than to the bottom. This can be encouraged by creating a level playing field (e.g., through competition legislation), providing incentives to businesses and sectors that are supporting the revitalisation of our planet and implementing regulations on negative externalities such as (air) pollution. Support must be provided to up-skill and re-skill workers in communities in transition, while encouraging financial institutions, banks, and investors to invest only in green and social options. We need to be deliberately collaborative, developing actionable, intersectoral solutions to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change in ways that also benefit health and social objectives.

“Financing decisions need to consider the nexus between social inclusion and climate change. By investing to address the health and social impact of climate change we can reduce inequalities and increase societal resilience to future shocks. Economic assessments of health and social co-benefits of a green and inclusive transition will provide the evidence base for further actions including funding and financing solutions”. Monica Scatasta, Director, Technical Assessment and Monitoring Directorate, Council of Europe Development Bank.

“Embracing commitments to zero pollution, zero carbon and zero biodiversity loss should be the common cause rallying the health and environment communities. The benefits of preventive action for people’s wellbeing, for society, for biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and planetary health, and for the economy far outweigh the costs. Insufficient action now means going back on our moral responsibilities and ignoring public service oaths, leading to an increasingly impossible future.” – Patrick ten Brink, Deputy Secretary General, European Environmental Bureau.

The momentum generated by COP26 as well as the COVID19 recovery process are opportunities that we cannot let pass by if we want to build a healthier, more sustainable planet for all. EuroHealthNet and partners will continue working to bring social justice and climate objectives together. Only then will we build support and trust in public bodies – and in the acceptability of the proposed actions.

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