‘The climate crisis is a health crisis and it’s killing us’: WHO Director General

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The climate crisis is a health crisis and 3.3 billion people worldwide are now highly vulnerable to the effects of global warming, Dr. Vanessa Kerry, the first-ever Director General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health, said during COP28’s Health Day.

Speaking at the Reaching Last Mile forum, she said the events of 2023 – said to be the hottest on record – has brought “this painful truth” into sharp focus.

She said the US, Canada and Europe have seen record-breaking temperatures. The Horn of Africa has seen devastating floods. Flooding in Libya has caused widespread devastation that swept 20,000 to sea.

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“Each climate event has left devastation, death and a long tale of health complications in its wake,” she said. “And so is the time for challenging out leaders and the time for challenging the status quo. The time for bold and decisive action by every single one of us in the room.”

“Now already 3.3 billion people in our world are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

The World Health Organization estimates that one in four deaths in the world are from preventable environmental causes and “climate change is further exacerbating these risks.”

A study released just days before the Health Day shows that eight million people a year die from air pollution, she said.

More starkly, she said one person dies every four seconds due to preventable environmental causes – this is more than the entire COVID-19 pandemic. she said.

“So, by the time I finish this sentence another person will have died and 61 percent of these deaths are directly attributable to fossil fuels,” she said. “And over the next decade we will see an acceleration of preventable deaths and increased morbidity for millions of people suffering as a result of climate amplification of non-communicable disease, vector-borne diseases, maternal and neonatal emergencies and mental health challenges.”

For example, she said, Pakistan had achieved the near elimination of malaria in some provinces but saw a fourfold increase to more than 1.6 million cases after the 2022 floods.

And in Malawi, the worst cholera outbreak in the country’s history was caused by severe storms brought on by climate change.

“The health impacts of climate change destroy livelihoods and threaten out individual and collective security,” Kerry said.

“We must accept that there is no other way than to phase out fossil fuels. Simply mitigation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is no longer a choice.”

“At the crux of the climate and health nexus is a choice whether we are willing to change the status quo.”

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