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Putting health at the centre of global climate talks

EU health delegation at UNFCCC COP 16, CANCUN, MEXICO (29 November - 5 December 2010)

Climate change threatens the basic elements of life such as access to food, water, shelter and clean air - which in turn severely impacts human health. The good news is that action to mitigate climate change can improve public health: an important message for negotiators in Cancun.

The HEAL delegation at Cancun brought together high level medical professionals to bring the voice of the health community into the negotiations. Our delegation sought to highlight that reducing greenhouse gasses is good for the climate, national economies and peoples’ health. Findings from our report, Acting NOW for better health: A 30% reduction target for EU climate policy were presented at a key World Health Organization meeting in Cancun and used extensively in health policy discussions during the talks. Two European Commissioners are now known to support the report. When our delegation met with Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, she said she knew and liked it very much and, during a meeting with MEP Jo Leinen in Cancun, we learnt that Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnikc made reference to the report in one of their meetings!

After two weeks of negotiations in Cancun, it seems that global leaders finally formed an agreement which takes significant steps towards a safer climate. Whilst there is no deal yet and much work still to do, hopefully these discussions will form the foundations of an agreement to be at the next Conference of parties held in Durban next year.

Our climate and health partners in Cancun included Health Care Without Harm, the Climate and Health Council, Standing Committee Of European Doctors, International Society of Doctors for the Environment and the International Federation of Medical Students, as well as a very strong presence from the World Health Organization.

HEAL’s health delegation activities in Cancun:


Climate Change TV: Hugh Montgomery of University College London gives his thoughts on the COP16 Climate Talks and the relationship between climate and health.


Climate Change TV Michael Wilks, former President of the Standing Committee of European Doctors and Pendo Maro, Senior Climate and Energy Advisor at HEAL and Health Care Without Harm talk about how investment in reducing greenhouse gases produces immediate and lasting benefits to health.


Health delegation letter to UNFCCC National focal points and the EU MEP delegation. Signed by HEAL, HCWH and Climate and Health Council, the letter highlighted the numerous benefits to health (and healthcare costs) which mitigation polices will bring. Read the letter here: What’s good for climate change is good for health AND the economy

Michael Wilks: BMJ blog – Climate change and health – time for a new narrative. Dr. Michael Wilks, an integral part of HEAL’s health delegation at Cancun writes an article for the British Medical Journal’s blog. “What those of us at Cancún are trying to do is to emphasise a benefit of action to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) – a “co-benefit” that improves health and reduces healthcare costs...”


HEAL launched new country figures showing massive health benefits from higher climate change targets. On the back of our ground-breaking report, Acting NOW for better health: A 30% reduction target for EU climate policy, which includes figures on health benefits for Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, HEAL released new figures for Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary , Portugal, Romania and Slovakia.

Health and Fiscal Co-benefits of Emissions Reductions: Summary for Negotiators. HEAL, the Climate and Health Council and Health Care Without Harm Europe, presented a one page briefing for negotiators on climate in Cancun which outlines the health and fiscal co-benefits of carbon emissions reductions.

Lyn Wilson (SeaTrust International) and Pastor Peters Omoragbon (Nurses Across Borders) discuss the Health Coalition coming out of Copenhagen. Their mandate is to reach out to all professionals working in the industry to look at how climate change in impacting health. Watch the interview...

CPME Press release: The medical profession urges to focus on sustainable prophylactic policies to secure global health.


Health Day at Cancun – Time to Act is Now. HEAL and Health Care Without Harm Europe released the Climate and Health Statement at a World Health Organization side-event meeting. Dr. Michael Wilks, part of HEAL’s EU delegation, presented the Statement to delegates. Cancun Health Statement: Climate Change and Health, The Time to Act is Now Signed by Leaders from international medical and health organisations, the Statement asks negotiators to take into account the significant health concerns and to recognise that reducing greenhouse gasses is not only good for the climate but also for peoples’ health and national economies.

- Message to Negotiators at Cancun: Health Day at COP16 - Doctors say: Don’t Forget the Health Dividend

- Message to EU delegation: Don’t forget the health dividend

Article in the ECO NGO Newsletter at Cancun - "...climate checkup from medical community tells us about the benefits of addressing our emissions addictions".


Health day at Cancun gave us an excellent opportunity for further media promotion. The new country findings that accompany our September report Acting NOW for better health: A 30% reduction target for EU climate policy were picked up in many EU member states including Hungary (thanks to HEAL member, the Clean Air Action Group) where it featured in four national news sites and widely on NGO websites, Bulgaria with a article in the leading weekly paper Capital covering our report, and a German medical publication.

Other media coverage included:

The Lancet – Could health finance climate change mitigation?

Live Science: Climate Change Talks Should Include Health Effects

WHO – World Health Organization, Jumo


• International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA) Blog:

• UNFCCC Youth Delegation – The health perspective – courtesy of Sudhvir Singh

• ABC live: WHO Proposes COP16 to Make Adoption Funds with Public Health Package

• New Report: the Climate Vulnerability Monitor indicates that there could be 5 million climate deaths by 2020, which increased the pressure on the delegates. The Climate Vulnerability Monitor is the first definitive study on the impacts of climate change on human health. It was produced by DARA a leading humanitarian research organisation in conjunction with the Climate Vulnerability Forum (CVF).

New report: Acting NOW for better health: A 30% reduction target for EU climate policy. The HEAL and HCWH report, released in September 2010, quantifies the health benefits for Europeans of stronger EU action on climate change for both the EU and different Member States. It reframes the current discussions from climate costs to climate benefits, particularly for people’s health and healthcare systems.

HEAL has been working on climate and health issues since 2007 – visit our climate and health resources section.

Campaign Postcard: What’s good for climate is good for health.

HEAL delegation

Campaign postcard

Written on 3 December 2010.




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