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Stepped up climate action at COP26 could save millions of lives: WHO

Published: Updated:

The World Health Organization and about three-quarters of global health care workers on Monday called on governments to step up climate action at the COP26 global climate conference, saying it could save millions of lives a year.

The UN health agency’s report on climate change and health calls for transformational action in every sector including energy, transport, and finance, saying the public health benefits of ambitious climate actions far outweigh the costs.

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“The burning of fossil fuels is killing us. Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity,” the WHO said on Monday.

The WHO has previously said some 13.7 million deaths a year, or around 24.3 percent of the global total, were due to environmental risks such as air pollution and chemical exposure.

It is not clear exactly how many of those are directly linked to climate change, although the WHO’s Maria Neira said about 80 percent of the deaths from air pollution could be prevented through compliance with its guidelines.

The report’s release coincides with a letter backed by more than 400 health bodies representing more than 45 million nurses, doctors, and medical professionals also calling for action.

“The actions called for in this letter — which are necessary although not sufficient to fully address the climate and health crises — will go a long way toward protecting people worldwide,” the letter said.

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council recognized access to a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental right, adding its weight to the fight against climate change.

Read more: UN urges nations to spend more to prevent species loss as new pact talks begin