Experts Warn: COP28 ‘Signals’ from World Leaders Inadequate for Public Health

India/Dubai, December 18: As COP28 closes today in Dubai, the health community commended agreements in the outcome text of COP28 that some countries noted as signaling the end of the fossil fuel era. In a media release issued by the GCHA – The Global Climate and Health Alliance, a consortium of over 160 health professional and health civil society organizations and networks from around the world addressing climate change, the health groups criticized the summit’s failure to commit to a full phase-out of fossil fuels – a critically urgent step for protecting people’s health.

The problematic lack of consensus on fossil fuel phase-out was coupled with concerns about the failure to commit to strong targets for adaptation, essential for building resilient systems capable of protecting vulnerable populations. “Signals alone are not enough – only real action to phase out fossil fuels will protect people’s health”, said Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the GCHA (Global Climate and Health Alliance).

Despite these concerns, the health community welcomed signals indicating the potential end of the fossil fuel era as a positive step in the right direction. The COP28 Climate and Health Declaration, signed by 142 countries to date, the inaugural Health Day at COP, and an InterMinisterial meeting on climate and health with nearly 50 Ministers of Health and 110 high-level health ministerial staff attending for the first time were highlighted as events that elevated the focus on people’s health at COP28.

“Climate change is the greatest injustice of our time across generations. The inclusion of a health day at COP28 is a remarkable step forward. However, the active decision by world leaders to exclude a rapid and just fossil fuel phase out from the decision text clearly values profit over the health of marginalized people, notably children and youth, across the globe. Continuing fossil fuel extraction paves the way for augmenting the health threats and infringements of human rights of those most marginalized”, said Amiteshwar Singh, co-founder of the Youth Climate and Health Network, and Giulia Gasparri, co-founder of the Youth Climate and Health Network and project officer at PMNCH. PMNCH is hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is the world’s largest alliance for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and well-being, with +1,300 partner organizations.

With over 1900 delegates from the health sector present at COP this year, the efforts to ensure climate decisions prioritize people’s lives and well-being gained momentum. “While recognisable progress was made by COP28, the failure to find consensus on a full and fair phase out of fossil fuels is deeply problematic when people’s health and lives hang in the balance – with the highest price being paid by communities who have contributed least to the problem”, Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance said. “This year we saw superstorms, floods, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, yet with the severe toll climate impacts are already taking on people’s health and health systems, it is disheartening that world leaders still could not align themselves on the obvious and urgent need for fossil fuel phase out”, said Miller. “It is also worrying that developed countries held back from recognising their responsibility to reduce emissions first and fastest, or from making clear and measurable commitments to support the most impacted countries to adapt, with adequate finance to support implementation.”

“Compromise may be a part of international negotiations, but childrens’ developing lungs, brains and bodies will not know what was achieved at COP28, if it does not drive the most rapid of transitions away from fossil fuels, and support their communities to adapt to the impacts that we are already experiencing” said Miller. “Today’s outcomes will not matter if the air remains polluted and there is no food on the table due to drought. Pregnant women whose nearest clinic was destroyed by floods will not celebrate such modest steps towards eliminating the drivers or protecting against the impacts of the climate crisis”.

“As delegates leave Dubai, developed countries must address the needs of the most vulnerable, and lead us towards equitably delivering the end of the fossil fuel era; and this leadership must put any countries hoping to cling to a fossil fuel future on notice that indeed this era is at an end”, concluded Miller.

Fossil fuels are the leading driver of climate change and its health impacts, and inflict additional health hazards from the moment of extraction to combustion. “While the COP28 final text clearly signals the impending end of the fossil fuel era, naming the need to end dependence on fossil fuels for the first time in a 30 year process, it leaves gaping and dangerous loopholes such as carbon capture and storage, ‘transitional fuels’ like fossil gas, and nuclear power, and does not clearly commit to a full, fair or funded fossil fuel phase out. Meanwhile, current language on adaptation and finance leaves vulnerable people unprotected and risks reinforcing cycles of debt, disease and death. The COP28 final text pays lip service to the human right to health and the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, but falls short of action to guarantee them”, said Jess Beagley, Policy Lead at the Global Climate and Health Alliance.

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