Climate change comes with high health risks

Monday November 20, 2017 Written by Published in Local

Climate change issues pose a significant health risk to the Cook Islands and the other members of the small island developing states (SIDS).


Making a presentation on “Climate Change and Health in SIDS” at the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, last week, Health minister Nandi Glassie said the small island states in the Pacific were the most vulnerable to climate change.

The increase in the frequency and strength of extreme weather in the Pacific island countries from climate change had increased disease risks in the region, he added.

“Health ecosystems are part of the region’s social and cultural heritage and identity, and this fragile ecological balance is being seriously threatened by climate change,” Glassie said.

“Apart from the threat to physical health and survival, the vulnerability of ecological systems also increases psychosocial risks.

“Uncertainty about the future causes anxiety and depression. Developing and nurturing resilient health systems is central to addressing the health impacts of climate change.”

Glassie, who represented the Pacific Health Ministers at COP23, said they were calling for a massive scaling up of efforts to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change on human health in small island states

The Pacific islands region as a whole, he said, accounted for only 0.03 per cent of the global emissions of carbon from fuel combustion, despite having around 0.12 per cent of the world’s population.

Glassie also pointed out that several Pacific island countries such as the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Niue, Tokelau and Tuvalu will use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020.

“It is really unfair and unjust that we have to be the first ones to face the impacts of climate change on health and health systems, even though we are the last ones who contributed to the root cause of climate change.

“Thus, we like to highlight with the fact that while recognising the importance of strengthening the climate resilience of health systems, there is a need for stronger action on mitigating the causes of climate change.”

Glassie said they also needed resources to support the World Health Organisation director general and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on special initiatives on health and climate change in SIDS.

He said resources were needed for country-specific evidence and progress tracking, robust health information systems, multi-sectoral cooperation and evidence-based initiatives adapted to the Pacific context. There was also a need for better understanding of the complex science underlying the links between health and climate change, particularly in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, Glassie said, no major climate financing had so far been provided to the health sectors in Pacific island countries.

Accessing funds to support work in this area in the Pacific remained a challenge and navigating the processes for accessing international and bilateral funds was complex, he added.

“In this regard, health ministers of 22 Pacific island countries and areas have called for bigger financial support and a simpler mechanism by UNFCCC for small islands developing nations to get access to climate change funds.

“We also request WHO to scale up necessary technical support for us to build climate resilient health systems. We should also be an accredited entity of GCF (Green Climate Fund) to help us access the funds as soon as possible.”

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