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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Curbing air pollution can address climate change, protect health

UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) Deputy Executive Secretary, Ovais Sarmad, on Thursday, November 1, 2018  underlined the interlinkages between climate change and air pollution at the First World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Conference on “Air Pollution and Health: Improving Air Quality, Combatting Climate Change – Saving Lives” that held in Geneva, Switzerland. Ovais Sarmad urged participants to impress it upon their respective government to finalise the Paris Agreement Work Programme at the next UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, in December.

Ovais Sarmad
Ovais Sarmad

The partnership between the WHO and UN Climate Change is very strong and we are grateful to the Director General for bringing the focus to the linkages between health and climate change and this conference is all about that.

Let me share with you the context: Never has humanity been this mobile, this connected, this socially aware, or had the tools to affect change like we do right now.

This connectivity has helped people around the world address many big, interlinked challenges.

For example, life expectancy has increased more than 20 years in the past half century.

Death rates in children under five have decreased.

And the total number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by 700 million people over the past 30 years.

While we’ve accomplished so much in many areas, we’re doing less well protecting our environment – much less.

Many have forgotten that the health of humankind is intricately connected to the health of the environment.

Climate change is intricately tied to air quality.

For many years, air pollution was the only tangible connection people had with climate change. They knew climate change had something to do with greenhouse gas emissions, and exhaust from car emissions – which was something they could see – was the first connection they made.

Of course, emissions do lead to air pollution and climate change.

This is a connection that is easy to understand and, thus, to motivate people. Reduce air pollution and we can address climate change, and vice versa, reduce carbon emissions and address the environmental determinants of health.

Of course, it’s more nuanced than that. Air pollution isn’t restricted to emissions from tailpipes, and climate change contributes to several serious health challenges throughout the world, ranging from malnutrition to nutrient-deficient crops to water safety.

UN Climate Change will continue to work in all possible ways with the WHO and other organisations and partners to address air pollution, climate change impacts, and improve human health conditions in all parts of the world and societies.

As many of you know, the COP has become a major UN conference. This year, COP24 is going to be held in Poland.

Last year the Director General of the WHO was at the COP where we signed an MOU. He was asked by the Fijian President of COP23 to produce a report on health and climate change.

I am very pleased to note that the report has been prepared and will be released at this year’s COP and we are very much looking forward to it. I think it will make a very strong contribution to the climate change discussion by informing the Parties.

The 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP24 that will be in Katowice, this December. At COP24 we face a significant challenge, and that is to get nations to finalise the Paris Agreement Work Programme. Parties must address several issues, but this is the most important one.

The reason it’s important is because it sets the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement will work. And that is important because it ensures the true potential of Paris can be unleashed – including ramping up climate action so that we limit climate change to 1.5C.

The recent IPCC’s Special Report was yet another reminder why that number is important. But here’s why it’s important to the work all of you are doing and your engagement.

It’s important because climate change is a threat multiplier. It takes almost every single challenge humanity faces and makes it worse. This includes air quality.

On the other hand, address climate change and we can tackle those issues in a much more positive way.

It means involving public and private institutions – we know governments alone cannot solve climate change. We need climate action from all people at all levels in all sectors.

One of the most important goals is to get all governments, people and businesses to make the immediate transition from fossil fuels to more renewable forms of energy.

This contributes to our climate goals and it means boosting the health of our overall environment and the quality of our food and water.

Tthe most important of our tasks – and directly connected to your work – is finalising the Paris Agreement Work Programme.

That’s why today I’m urging you to use all influence at your disposal to send a message to your government representatives or those in your organisation.

Tell them we have an extremely small window of opportunity left to address climate change.

Tell them that it’s time to get the work done that we all committed to do.

Tell them that it’s not just of economic importance, but of human importance. Our health – the health of our families and our children and future generations – depends on it.

Like for all of you, it is unpleasant for me to look out the window at the smog that envelops so many of our great cities in a poisonous grey shroud.

While it’s unpleasant to see, it’s doing worse to our bodies. So many people are suffering because of the negative impact of climate change.

Let’s focus our attention on the things we can do right now. At the top of that list is to accomplish the Paris Agreement Work Programme at COP24.

Success at COP24 means finalising the Paris Agreement Work Programme. That will include transparency of action, measuring, monitoring and reporting on actions.

A completed Work Programme will not only provide guidelines for the Paris Agreement, but unleash its full potential. More than that, it sends a signal of trust that nations are serious about addressing climate change.

We need progress on several other issues as well, including commitments to boost global climate action and ensuring nations fulfill their financial pledges to support the climate regime.

All of this will help us tackle issues such as air pollution and make significant progress on the SDGs. We don’t have much time to lose. Urgent action at all levels is needed.

UNFCCC is a strong and willing partner and we are pleased to be here together with WHO and other partners to provide any support we can – beyond this conference.

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