Country of Residence: Switzerland
Current Position: Climate Change and Health Team Leader within the Public Health and Environment department at the World Health Organization (WHO)
Dr Campbell-Lendrum has played key roles in the 2008 World Health Assembly Resolution on climate change and health, and is a lead author of the health chapter of the forthcoming 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
You are participating in the preparation of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report. Could you give us an update on the scientific evidence of climate change on health?
The evidence of climate change on health is already strong in the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC. It states that climate change is already increasing the global burden of disease, through malnutrition, vector borne disease and diarrhoea. My view is that the evidence since then provides further reinforcement of current and future health effects. We also now have much more evidence that climate change mitigation can bring very large, immediate and local co-benefits for health. The clearest example is air pollution. A large contributor to indoor air pollution is burning of coal and biomass on inefficient stoves in developing countries. Much of outdoor air pollution comes from the fossil fuels used in transport and electricity generation. Shifting to clean energy sources can particularly reduce the strong warming effect of short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, and at the same time improve air quality and decrease the burden of respiratory diseases. The 5th assessment report will need to assess this new evidence.
Given the scientific evidence we have, is health prioritised enough by governments and the UNFCCC?
Yes and no. Parties put health at the centre of the UNFCCC. Health is in Article 1 and Article 4 of the Convention. It is actually one of the key justifications behind climate change action. Health is starting to come through in the operational mechanisms in the UNFCCC. However, recognition needs to be followed by concrete plans and action. Countries need to identify health as a priority. We think that the evidence for the effects of climate on health is as strong as other sectors, and the evidence for health co-benefits of mitigation much stronger. So, we think that firstly, there needs to be recognition of health in adaptation through technical support and funding. Secondly, financing mechanisms in mitigation should prioritise those interventions which bring health co-benefits.
International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) interviewed one of Green Climate Fund representatives here in Doha. According to him, "Health is not a priority”. How can we address this issue and add more financial support for health sector?
In terms of demand from countries, or the general public, it is a priority. About half of Parties cited health impacts in their plenary presentations at COP17, and almost all least developed countries (LDCs) identified it as an urgent priority in their National Adaptation Programmes of Action. Whether this is reflected in climate finance is another question – there is good evidence that other fields have been prioritised above health. We are not asking for special treatment, but health should be considered on the same basis as, for example, agriculture, water resources or disaster risk reduction.
But we also need to be collaborative rather than competitive, as many of the most important health decisions are taken in these areas, rather than the formal health sector. We also need to do our homework. The lack of funding is partly because the health community has focused more on short term needs, and has only recently started to engage fully in climate change. We need to communicate evidence clearly, to make clear that we have organised plans to protect health from climate change, and the capacity to implement them. Health is now doing this, and should be in a much stronger position for finance.
People sometimes describe climate change as a Christmas tree – any problem can be hung on it like a decoration. We need to avoid the temptation just to pay lip service – we have to be serious, and focused on doing what is most effective to protect and promote health at the same time as addressing climate change.
Interview by Rennie Qin from International Federation of Medical Students' Associations (IFMSA).