Pages tagged "climate"

  • Talking about climate and health

    CAHA has been out and about talking about climate and health.   The last few weeks have included:

    • a workshop at the Australian Climate Action Summit in Sydney (with Dr Helen Redmond) on using the health frame to talk about climate change;
    • a talk at the New South Wales Nurses Association on the role of health professionals in advocating for climate action;
    • a report from COP17 in Durban to the Nossal Institute Centre for Global Health journal club on getting health into the international climate negotations;
    • a seminar at Deakin University on the role of health professionals as policy advocates.

    You can download the the slides from each of the presentations here:

    Using the health frame to encourage support for climate action
    The role of health professionals in advocating for climate action
    Getting health into the international climate negotations
    The role of health professionals as policy advocates

    CAHA can provide experts in climate and health to present at public events and comment in media - contact CAHA Convenor [email protected] or call 0438 900 005.

  • Whats a climate and health clinic?

    CAHA ran its first ever 'pop-up' Climate and Health Clinic at the 2012 Sustainable Living Festival. Here, CAHA Convenor Fiona Armstrong talks about the clinic, about the roving health promoters, and what it means to get a 'prescription for a healthy planet and a healthy you'. https://vimeo.com/37793910
  • Lots of prescriptions issued at Climate and Health Clinic

    The Climate and Health Alliance along with Koowerup Regional Health Service recently initiated a Climate and Health Clinic - a two day event run as part of the Melbourne Sustainability Festival. With the help of more than 20 fabulous volunteers, the Clinic offered 'climate and health checks' to hundreds of festival-goers, and those who wished to could have their own prescription for 'climate and health'. The prescriptions acted as a checklist to assist people identify actions that they could take in their own lives that would cut emissions and improve their own and/or population health at the same time. Download Your Prescription for a Healthy Life and Healthy Planet - or even better, print some out and offer them to friends, family or patients. The popup clinic idea and the prescriptions offer a great health promotion tool to use the health 'frame' to talk about climate change, and help raise awareness of the health benefits associated with cutting emissions - a WIN! WIN! situation. Want to know more? View a couple of our videos from the event! What CAHA lacks in professional media resources, it makes up for in enthusiasm - so excuse the quality, but we hope you get the idea!  

  • The shock of the new should not be confused with a new kind of shock

    The summer holidays provide an opportunity for many of us in our largely urbanised population to revisit rural landscapes as we travel to visit relatives, go camping or engage in that Aussie summer favourite, a trip to the beach. The encroachment of urban developments and industrial structures on previously bucolic rural vistas comes as a shock as we pass remembered landscapes suddenly altered by the telltale signs of human existence. A new housing estate, factory, freeway, rail line, mine or power station; all change our natural environment in fundamental and inescapably distinct ways. We may wistfully recall a sleepier, untouched time and place; but the change is quickly forgotten as we pass, and its impact fades until the next visit. For those who inhabit changing landscapes however, the changes can disrupt one's sense of place and sense of identity, and can lead to feelings sometimes associated with grief and loss. As our steadily growing human population leaves its mark across the globe, with seven billion of us now sprawling out across seven continents, there are few places on Earth now left untouched. This is having dramatic impacts on the natural environment, but are changes people largely accept because of the benefits those developments bring to human society (and the trappings of Western lifestyles many of us have come to expect): high speed Internet, road transport infrastructure commensurate with our predilection for cars, and reliable electricity and water supplies. Much of this infrastructure development occurs infrequently, being big ticket items so costly that governments shy away from them, and substantial investments therefore only take place every decade or so. In Australia this has left us with much ageing and inadequate infrastructure, particularly in the energy and transport sectors. We are likely to see significant changes in terms of infrastructure development to address this in coming decades. As the planning and development of this new infrastructure takes place, it will be important to keep in perspective its purpose and to choose technologies that pose the least environmental risk and are the safest in terms of their impact on human and ecological health. Part of the impetus in the energy sector is the declining quality of existing infrastructure - our forty to fifty year old coal fired power stations have passed their use-by date, and it is only the cost of their replacement (and the histrionics of their politically powerful owners) that appear to compel governments to award ongoing licences to operate. There are even more compelling pressures to upgrade our energy infrastructure however; the mining, transportation, and burning of coal for electricity generation poses serious threats to human health and is responsible for hundreds, possibly thousands of avoidable deaths each year from the toxins and pollution produced by this process. Coal kills; and whether we burn it here or ship it offshore for others to burn, it will lead to loss of life and the development of serious illnesses and human suffering. Not only does coal poses a health threat, it is the principal villain in driving dangerous climate change worldwide, and its replacement therefore one of the big potential wins in cutting national emissions and reducing our very high level of emissions per person. Gas too poses serious risks - given the shift to shallow coal seam gas mining as traditional natural gas reserves diminish, fertile farmland is being lost to industrial wastelands, and underground water tables threatened by the use of mining chemicals untested for human safety. Coupled with the emerging evidence that coal seam gas poses as big a threat to atmospheric pollution as coal (it may have an even higher lifecycle emissions profile than coal), this leaves renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind in the box seat in terms of safety for human health and as climate friendly technologies. There are powerful vested interests however in preventing the widespread roll out of these technologies and recent activities suggest these interests are promoting anxiety and concern in the community regarding the safety of some renewable energy technology, such as wind power. Often these concerns can be heightened by a sense of disruption with regard to place identity and are understandable human responses to changes in the known environment. It is important to however not to confuse these responses with genuine concerns with regard to wellbeing, and the community must be careful not to allow those with vested interests to exploit the public's sense of vulnerability around change and lack of access to credible information by promoting fears about the safety of wind power. Recent reviews of the scientific literature demonstrate that there is no credible peer reviewed scientific evidence that demonstrates a link between wind turbines and adverse health impacts in people living in proximity to them. A new paper has been developed by a coalition of Australian health groups should assuage community concerns on this topic. The Health and Wind Turbines position paper, released by the Climate and Health Alliance today, finds that while large-scale commercial wind farms have been in operation internationally for many decades, often in close proximity to thousands of people, there is no evidence of any associated increases in ill-health. Change in our known environment can be challenging. Investing in safe community infrastructure is important for all of us. In making decisions about our future energy supply, we must consider the costs of current forms of electricity generation on climate change and health for all members of the community, including those living in proximity to infrastructure. Fortunately for the community and the climate, wind power offers a safe, reliable, climate-friendly alternative to harmful and high emissions from coal, and is available now at prices we can afford. This article first appeared on Climate Spectator on January 25, 2012.

  • Rolling the dice at Durban

    By Fiona Armstrong December 9th, 2011

    In the final week in Durban a sense of frustration is permeating the COP, where aspirations for a global deal remain high, but expectations swing between mildly hopeful and almost absent. The tone of the Australian delegation is one of determined but checked progress, maintaining there will be positive outcomes on some issues while keeping expectations low. Australia continues its dream run in terms of public sentiment here, where many international delegates are under the impression that Australia's carbon price legislation has real significance in terms of emissions reductions, seemingly unaware of the tiny step it actually represents. Still, the misconception is creating goodwill and perhaps even pressure on other countries to commit to binding targets at the international level, so what is lacking in policy efficacy is being made up in PR kudos, at least for now. In terms of progress in the discussions, China is signalling a openness to legally binding obligations but stonewalling by New Zealand, Canada, Russia, the US and Japan means there is little hope of any final decisions on legal form. Many negotiating efforts by the big polluting nations appear to be about delaying decisions for as long as possible, with the staggeringly irresponsible date of 2020 for mandatory emissions cuts being advocated by the US. The options currently being pursued range from: retaining some aspects of the Kyoto Protocol, but with limits to offsets, greatly enhanced measurement, verification and reporting, and the development of a new legally binding instrument to be agreed at COP18; to securing some agreement on mitigation measures but with the decision on legal form delayed until 2020. A review of global targets is being proposed to raise the level of commitments, but India, the US and China all want that delayed until after a scientific review slated for 2015. Filling the coffers of the Green Climate Fund, for adaptation and mitigation in developing nations agreed to at Cancun, is also proving difficult; promised funds are failing to materialise and many nations are reluctant to name the figure they will commit in order to realise the agreed goal of $US100 billion per year by 2020. Hopes of a fast start, that would see substantial funds committed between 2010 and 2012, are now looking a bit shaky. Ensuring these funds are a) delivered and b) new and additional (i.e. not rebadged aid funding) is the main game. Too little discussion has been had about additional ways of raising funds, however redirecting fossil fuel subsidies is an obvious choice, with the Robin Hood tax (a minuscule tax on financial transactions that could potentially raise US$400 billion a year) another obvious contender. Bad behaviour by countries here at the COP is rewarded with the title of "fossil of the day". Winners to date include: Turkey (for its 98 per cent growth in emissions post 1990 plus seeking Kyoto $ to spend on coal and roads); the US (for turning up but only wanting to discuss climate action in nine years time); Canada (for refusing to cooperate with just about everything); and New Zealand and Russia (joint first place for wanting to benefit from Kyoto but not be bound by it). In the meantime, global emissions increased 6 per cent last year and millions of hectares of forests disappeared. The rate of global deforestation is 14.5 million hectares each year, as forests are converted to agricultural land to feed the inexorably rising global human population. The gap between reality and commitment makes these a rather surreal set of discussions, the nature of which is well captured in this quote from Climate Action Network Australia Director Georgina Woods: "We are all struggling to find a way to describe the kind of banal failure that is at risk of emerging here. I arrived steeled for major drama, hysterics and intensity; what's happening instead is potentially worse “ a slide into oblivion masked by the veneer of progress. Because there certainly is progress. The LCA text [long term cooperative action] represents a huge amount of work by negotiators in the last 12 months, and encompasses many things that the people of the world need and want to deal with climate change¦ and yet¦ putting off the major decisions¦ leaves open the possibility that they will find the important decisions all too hard, and find shelter together in their cowardice, and guiltily cobble together agreements that have the semblance of cooperation, but do not change the trajectory we are already on: towards a four degrees warmer world." Current existing pledges fall well short of what the science indicates is needed to give us only a modest chance (66 per cent) of limiting warming to 2°C (itself a target that is not considered desirable or safe), so it's no wonder a lot of talk here is focusing on the ˜gigatonne' gap, or emissions gap, that exists between pledges and the actual emissions cuts needed. Global emissions leapt in 2010, but a recent UNEP report says this puts us on track to be 12 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2e over what we can afford to emit if the world is to have any hope of staying below 2ºC, a goal described by NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen as a recipe for disaster. What do we really want from Durban? Ideally, Ministers would go home having agreed to a multilateral approach to addressing climate change, with a combination of legally binding instruments, decisions, rules and guidelines. These should be, in the words of the COP President, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's International Relations Minister, "pragmatic, effective, timely and appropriate." This would require documented commitments for which there are consequences if countries fail to keep them: mechanisms for ensuring emissions trajectories are consistent with the timeframe that science indicates; sufficient climate financing for developing nations to adapt as well as begin their own low carbon transitions; and action from all countries, led by the industrialised nations. It's not the case that there have been no genuine efforts to reach agreement. Indeed it seems there has been many constructive discussions, some of which may well have been influenced by the COP President's invocation of ˜Indabas' “ a traditional form of South African participatory democracy in which people come together in the spirit of ˜Ubuntu,' being motivated by the common good, to discuss a matter of great importance and to solve intractable or difficult collective problems in ways that benefit the community as a whole. (Sound familiar?) So, what have we got without a global deal? It seems increasingly likely that we will see emerging cooperation between nation states, as bilateral and regional deals are made. Some pressure may come from developing nations who refuse to provide offsets for wealthier countries who fail to act. Aside from those, we are left, largely, to rely on domestic policy commitments to deliver emissions reductions and the hope that commercial competitiveness and the actions of individual nation states will deliver a sufficiently broad rollout of clean renewable energy to see emissions peak in the timeframe left to avert runaway climate change. The German Advisory Council (WGBU) remains cautiously optimistic this can be achieved and is working to facilitate that by offering a roadmap for a transformation to sustainability to any country or group of countries willing to take the lead. Their Social Contract for Sustainability offers willing leaders the opportunity to showcase how ambitious and committed actions can create a new pact for sustainability and demonstrate how breaking away from existing destructive pathways can deliver greater equity, social wellbeing, and economic security. WGBU estimates the global cost of transformation would require $US200-$US1000 billion a year by 2030. This may seem a massive investment, but one they consider manageable through innovative business and financing models. They warn if it is not made, the costs associated with the economic, environmental and social disruption that a wildly unstable climate would be much, much more. To create a bit of perspective, we already spend $500 billion globally each year on fossil fuel subsidies “ a source of finance that would be more usefully deployed in a renewable energy transformation than driving dangerous climate change and causing millions of deaths from harmful air pollution. In light of a less than optimum outcome from our governments, it's encouraging other actors are not only envisioning but developing the roadmaps we need as a global community to reverse our current destructive path and shape a new future for our planet and our species. But we should also prepare to be surprised, in the hope that those negotiators in Durban will reveal their hands as stronger than we thought. After all, they won't be revealing all their cards till the very last. And before they do, may we hope they recall the words of that esteemed South African, Nelson Mandela, when he said: "It always seems impossible, until it is done."
  • Where's health at the COP?

    In another post, I wrote about why health professionals should care about climate change. Luckily, it seems that I'm not the only one who's thought of this- more than ever before, health professionals are present and engaging with the UN climate talks.
    During this conference, there have been 6 official side events, two health-related actions, and numerous other informal and peer-to-peer education sessions. But are negotiators giving health the love which health professionals are giving to climate change?
    Historically, involvement of health has been minimal. The original 1992 UNFCCC text has only two token mentions of health, the Kyoto Protocol has zero, and the Cancun Adaptation Framework has one “ in a footnote. Negotiations for this year haven't finished yet, but so far there hasn't been significant progress in the inclusion of health. This could cut both ways- health professionals have previously lacked meaningful engagement on climate change issues. But now so many things are happening to highlight that this isn't the case. There is now a large volume of high quality data that maps the many threats to human health and wellbeing that are posed by climate change; the World Health Organisation predicts that climate change is currently causing 150,000 deaths per year. Each year, about 1.2 million people die from causes attributable to urban air pollution, 2.2 million from diarrhoea largely resulting from lack of access to clean water supply and sanitation, 3.5 million from malnutrition and approximately 60 000 in natural disasters. Climate change will exacerbate each of these existing disease burdens. In addition, the health impacts will predominantly affect the poorest and most vulnerable worldwide “ women and children, the elderly, and those living in extreme poverty- those who have contributed least to the causes of climate change. Expanding our knowledge, however, is not enough. Unless a dramatic change in events occurs during the next 2 days, it is unlikely that the world will see a legally binding global deal before 2020. And the science now unequivocally tells us that this is too late to avoid catastrophic climate change. Therefore, as a global community we will need to increase our capacity to adapt to the changes which climate change will bring. In this area, the health profession will be crucial. A lack of involvement of health professionals within adaptation programmes, particularly under the Adaptation Committee, could have wide reaching and devastating effects on population health. Additionally, health is a tangible concept, which communities and individuals are easily able to envisage. Therefore, the use of health indicators to measure the impacts of climate change could act as an urgently required impetus for action. A lack of action by the negotiators at Durban would make it more, not less, important for health professionals to engage on climate change issues. It will be our patients who will be suffering the consequences in the years to come. Maya Tickell-Painter is a fourth year medical student currently studying in Brighton, UK. She travelled to the COP 17 conference in Durban as a representative of Medsin, the UK student global health organisation. This blog first appeared on the Adopt-A-Negotiator website on 7th December 2011.
  • COPping the heat (and the procrastination) in Durban

     

    By Fiona Armstrong The beachside city of Durban is packed, with 10,000 people from 194 countries in town for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to negotiate the next step in the process of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It's also the 7th meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP7), the mechanism through which the Protocol is implemented, and the central subject of this meeting, as nations wrestle with what arrangements can be put in place to replace or extend the agreements under the Protocol which expires in 2012. The focus to date has been on drafting, negotiating and agreeing proposals for each country's Ministers to use when they begin to negotiate the shape of the new commitments next week. There are concurrent discussions on the mitigation efforts agreed in Cancun last year, outstanding commitments from the Bali Action Plan of 2007, and intense discussions on both the volume and rate at which contributions to the Green Climate Fund are delivered to assist developing nations cut emissions and adapt to climate change. Several countries, including Australia have put forward proposals for a new treaty that would provide for implementation of the Convention post 2012. Ideally, this would also cover the commitments being negotiated under the Long term Cooperative Action (LCA) plans begun at Cancun, which includes mitigation strategies by countries such as the US currently outside the Kyoto Protocol. In a demonstration of negative peer influence, US recalcitrance is now being echoed by its northern neighbours, Canada, who earned themselves "fossil of the day" award on day one of the negotiations by indicating their intention to withdraw from the Protocol when it expires next year. This surprised no-one, as Canada has been falling short of their commitments for some time, but their hostility to the process was somewhat unprecedented, given the comments by the Canadian Environment Minister that signing Kyoto has been "one of the biggest blunders" ever made by their national government. The glaring chasm in the discussions is the gap between stated commitments of countries to cut emissions and those recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report (and confirmed by more recent evaluations, such as the Australian Climate Commission's Critical Decade report in May). (This 'discrepancy' was acknowledged in the Cancun Agreements, but subsequent indications of willingness to act and the negotiations here suggest there is a widespread delusional disorder among many nations that postponement will not carry profound risk and that delay due to poor political appetite is somehow justified). Other issues being negotiated here include the establishment of common accounting methods for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions reduction efforts, including international offsets. This is key to transparency and accountability, and a vital underpinning of any international agreement. There is much that is unknown about many of these commitments to date however (eg how emissions will be achieved, what gases will be covered, what accounting systems, and what sectors will be covered). In the meantime, many nongovernment organisations (NGOs) are focussing on the kinds of climate change issues that affect the welfare of people - trade, markets, gender, global justice, finance, and health. Health is receiving more attention than at previous COPs, with the largest ever health delegation to attend the international climate talks in Durban. There are scores of health organisations from more than 30 countries and dozens of health-related side events. Over 200 delegates will attend the Global Climate and Health Summit on Sunday where the establishment of a global climate and health coalition is proposed. Mentions of health in the negotiating texts are few and far between however, but health NGOs are working hard here to encourage countries to embed health messages into the discussions and stated ambitions, by highlighting the serious and increasing risks to health from climate change, as well as the substantial and immediate benefits to health from strategies to reduce emissions. Australia's role appears more cooperative rather than at earlier meetings, and the delegation coasting on a bit of goodwill for getting some form of climate policy legislation passed. Questions are still being raised however about its role in holding out for a loophole in the rules for land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) which allows Australia log and burn native forests without having to account for the emissions this causes. And there is no room for complacency in assuming the Clean Energy Future legislation is anywhere near enough for Australia to meet its obligations: a study out this week shows Australia needs to do much more to meet even its own 5% by 2020 target, much less the ambitious reductions required to keep warming stays below 2°C agreed to in Cancun, or the 1.5°C maximum sought by Pacific and some African nations. Along with most other nations, Australia needs to substantially raise its ambition. This requires much stronger targets: its contribution to the global task of emissions reductions must be consistent with its emissions profile as well as a fair share of the global task - cognisant of the commitments already in place from other countries. Its important to be aware that many other countries are meeting their (admittedly inadequate) Kyoto commitments and many are implementing climate policy: eleven other nations with whom Australia trades now have a price on carbon; fourteen have renewable energy targets; many more have policies such as emissions performance standards, feed-tariffs, and subsidies or incentives for energy efficiency or renewable energy technology. Despite having been hit by the eurozone crunch much harder than Australia, the UK, for example, is still committed to reductions of 50% by 2020. Global investment in renewable energy hit US$211 billion in 2010 and this despite the global economic downturn. The key messages from NGOs here in Durban are that:

    • Australia's current target is inadequate;
    • other countries are taking action;
    • strong domestic national policy is key to other countries taking action: and
    • there are important national benefits for emissions reductions that are available immediately.

    But Australian officials need to do a better job both here in Durban and at home to create a compelling narrative for strong climate action. There are many 'frames' through which climate action can be positively viewed i.e. benefits to health, risk management, and low carbon market opportunities - all of which are real, and available right now. The community must be made aware of the opportunities; and the consequences of further delay. And distortions of the science by those with vested interests must be exposed, as one presentation here today suggested for the "assault on humanity" that it is. While many of the negotiations here are taking place behind closed doors, there is a vital role for observers in tracking progress and spreading the word on how the talks progress. As these talks continue, I hope people back at home are following, and letting their representatives know that they expect a positive outcome. Time is short: very short, according to the recent International Energy Agency report. Please don't switch off, Australia - we'll all COP it if you do. This post also appears on Shaping Tomorrows World.

  • On the road to Durban and beyond

    This post was written by Dr. Pendo Maro, Senior Climate Advisor for Health Care Without Harm Europe and the Health and Environment Alliance; Pendo will attend COP 17 in Durban. It was first published on the blog of Health Care Without Harm, a charity that promotes health care which does no harm to people or the environment. I was in London on 17 October 2011 attending THE conference on health and security implications of climate change. With over 300 delegates, the meeting brought together ˜soldiers and doctors', scientists, politicians, business, industry, environmentalists and many others. This is a good indicator that joint efforts to raise awareness about health and climate change within the health sector have taken root. Even more exciting was the statement signed by many participants and many other concerned people calling the EU and other international leaders to take immediate action to address the health and security implications of climate change. But, health representation both in terms of professionals and substance at international and local climate change debates, policies and outcomes remains poor. We are redressing this. We took a health delegation to the international climate change talks in Barcelona, Copenhagen and Cancun and will be going to Durban. The idea: make sure that health forms a cornerstone of climate change talks and ambitious, binding actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. And bring the health voice forward. We are doing the same in Europe “ work with other civil society groups to advocate for health in the European institutions and in EU member states. Things are moving, albeit slowly. So why the fuss? Well, climate change is bad for your health. That's putting it simply. For starters, the health impacts of climate change are generally known. Yes, science has shown that health impacts include increasing burden of malnutrition, cardiovascular disease, mortality and morbidity from heat waves, floods and drought, changes in distribution of some vector diseases (¦). The European Respiratory Society's report shows that for every 1 degree Celsius increase in summer temperatures above defined European city-specific levels, overall death rates increase by 1-3% and by 6% amongst people with existing respiratory conditions. Add to that: environmental degradation, food shortages, increasing poverty, misery and economic instability and you have a crisis. Many citizens are concerned about this. A recent Eurobarometer poll shows that the European public is more concerned about climate change than the current economic situation, and many believe that tackling climate change can have benefits to employment and growth. So do our elected politicians hear this? Seriously. We are a few weeks from the international climate change talks, the UNFCCC COP 17 in Durban (28 November “ 9 December). Expectations are high that countries will agree to a clear, fair, legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. This is the only international legal instrument that sets binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, covering 37 so-called industrialised countries and the European Union member states. Canada, Russia, and Japan are on the opposition. The USA is not a signatory. Here we go. On 1 November, the so-called BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) meeting in China agreed to support a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and in their statement called upon the conference in Durban to establish a second Commitment Period to the Kyoto Protocol. Climate finance and the operationalisation of the Green Climate Fund set up in Cancun were other priority issues identified for Durban. The BASIC countries also called on developed countries not Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to undertake comparable emission cuts under the Convention. They pledged to take measures to curb their own emissions. These are good signs. On 4 November, leaders of the major economies, so-called developed countries, meeting at the G20 Summit in Cannes concluded by identifying the need to operationalise the Green Climate Fund as one of the priority outcomes for Durban. Let's see what they DO in Durban. What about the EU? Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)'s Environment Committee voted for a resolution on 26 October that calls for support to the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and called on the EU to work towards finding an agreement on the sources and management of the Green Climate Fund. The MEPs restated their call for the EU to increase its emissions reduction target for 2020, beyond the current 20% emissions reductions compared to 1990 levels. They also want to see new measures to cut aviation and marine emissions. During a recent debate with the EU Commissioner for Climate in the same Committee on 7 November, MEPs called for bold EU action before Durban. These are wise words from MEPs. The Commissioner hears this and talked of finding a common ambitious global solution. The problem is that some EU member states, luckily not all, do not want bold action by the EU, nor for the EU to increase its climate target beyond 20% “ for various reasons. But 20% is not enough[1]. And addressing climate change can have benefits to health, the environment and the economy. Health co-benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as those from increasing the EU's emissions reduction target from 20% to 30% compared to 1990 levels (a 10% increase), can save up to 30.5 billion Euros by 2020. These changes are mainly the result of improved air quality, which promote substantial improvements in respiratory and heart health. Reductions in healthcare costs can be an added incentive as several countries are struggling to balance their budgets and a healthier workforce can contribute to increasing productivity. No time to waste. This year will see the first ever Climate and Health Summit at an international climate change conference. The Summit, on December 4, co-organised by Health Care Without Harm will take place parallel to the UNFCCC meetings at the Tropicana Hotel in Durban, South Africa. The event will bring key health sector actors from around the world together to discuss the impacts of climate change on public health and solutions that promote greater health, as well as economic equity between and within nations. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate finance, healthcare sector contribution, health co-benefits and many others will feature. One of the outcomes of this Summit is to contribute to the negotiations taking place in Durban, not only by ensuring health representation, but also by making sure that key policy solutions from the Summit make their way to the Conference. Watch this space. Durban is not the end of the road, said the EU Commissioner for Climate. Indeed, in mid-next year we have the Rio+20 Summit and its ˜green economy' agenda. Already the UNDP's 2011 Human Development report highlights that health and income development in the so-called developing countries are hindered by inaction on climate change and environmental degradation and destruction. We have work to do! Please contact and join us. [1] IPPC (International Panel on Climate Change) 4th Assessment Report, 2007, IPCC recommendations: collective greenhouse gas emissions reductions by and within industrialised countries of 25-40% by 2020 from 1990 levels are needed to give only a 50-50 chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees.
  • Four Degrees Report

    By Dimity Williams Dimity Williams attended the Four Degrees conference as a Doctors for the Environment Australia member (and CAHA member) and shares main messages here. The presentations are at http://www.fourdegrees2011.com.au/ "It was an excellent conference with international speakers updating attendees on the latest climate science and coincided with the release of the government's carbon tax package. The premise of the conference was to describe the 4 degree world our politicians are planning for and in so doing motivate us for mitigation. In this they certainly succeeded as the science is very grim. Key messages for me were:

    • Australia is the most vulnerable continent to climate change impacts
    • The current CO2 concentration is 392 ppm (pre-industrial 280); the current level of warming is one degree above pre-industrial levels
    • There is an enormous disconnect between the international agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees (450ppm) and the current policies which see us (with a fossil fuel intensive model) reaching 4 degrees warming by 2070 - and hence 8 degrees by 2300. No human life at this temperature.
    • We need to peak global emissions by 2020 to have a 2/3 chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees
    • Global damage is a highly non-linear function of global warming ie. once certain tipping points are crossed there is no way to reverse them and a cascade starts ie. the Greenland ice sheet loss may be triggered at 1.5-2.5 degrees
    • Preliminary evidence suggests that once global temperature is over 5 degrees it will rapidly accelerate above 10 degrees
    • This is the CRITICAL DECADE for action to avert dire climate change; a strong mitigation future is technologically and economically feasible but is it politically feasible?

    All speakers can now be heard on the conference website and I highly recommend you spend some time listening for yourself. See link: http://www.fourdegrees2011.com.au/ Excellent sessions were: Session 4- Australia at 4 degrees Excellent discussion of heat waves and El Nino impacts recently by CSIRO /BOM scientists Session 5- Australian Biodiversity impacts Australia has 7-10% of global biodiversity; we are the most vulnerable continent because we are flat and have nutrient poor soil. This means that species migration is especially great ie. with one degree warming, species need to move 100m altitudinally and 125km south; this is difficult as many of our rivers run east-west

    • Australia currently has the highest mammal extinction rate in the world. For every 1 degree of warming 100-500 species of bird will become extinct. Ecosystems can only withstand <0.1 degree temperature increase per decade (current rate 0.13deg C; 0.46 at higher latitudes)
    • In addition to mitigation, the answer here is to protect more land, restore some of what's lost and understand that landscape level management is more important than individual species ie. protect ecosystems

    Session 6- Australian Marine impacts

    • Oceans maintain climate by absorbing CO2, generating O2 through marine plants and absorbing heat. They also supply our food and generate income through tourism and food supply
    • Impacts due to climate change include warming, acidification and a reduction in oxygen content
    • The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) generates $6 billion/year and employs 63,000 people- second largest employer in QLD. GBR is the most biodiverse ecosystem in Australia and is especially vulnerable to global warming as we see mass coral bleaching and acidification of the ocean
    • 80% world's coral reefs are at risk of disappearance at 1.5 degrees warming
    • Coral reef safety threshold crossed at the latest at 336ppm in 1979
    • As the ocean has warmed, species have migrated south, today at 1 degree of warming marine organisms have moved 100km south and there is 50% less coral cover now than 50yrs ago
    • By 2030 we can expect annual mass coral bleaching- the reef does not always recover from this ie. most pacific reefs bleached in 1998 have not recovered.

    Session 9- Health impacts by Professor Tony Mc Michael The issue is not adaptation to 4 degrees of warming as this will not be possible- the need is to strengthen our resolve to mitigation

    • Australia's lack of action on climate change is causing thousands of deaths in the third world
    • Causal paths for health impacts are:

    1. Environmental health hazards, 'exposures'- extreme temperatures and extreme weather events; increased concentrations of air pollutants and aeroallergans 2. Loss of and change in environmental functions 'services' - lower food yields, reduced fresh water, change to natural constraints to infection, reduction in nature's buffers ie. forests and reefs, psychological effects Tony asked "What do economists eat?" We don't just catch fish to sell them as a commodity; we catch them as a food source to maintain our health. Session 15- Mitigation- Can we? An excellent solutions-focussed session. I especially enjoyed the presentation from Anna Skarbek from CLIMATEWORKS whose answer was clearly 'Yes we can! There was also an address by Greg Combet, Minister for Climate Change and Ross Garnaut discussing the carbon tax package. Next steps I personally would prefer to attend a conference where we talk about limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees as 2 degrees sees us accepting the loss of entire countries (ie. Maldives, Pacific islands etc) and I wonder if the scientific community is allowing itself to have its parameters set by the political agenda? I would also like to see some research focus on mitigation rather than just the adaptation focus of the NCCARF and a place for science and health experts not just economists on key advisory groups like the Climate Change Authority."