Network Updates / Geneva, Switzerland; London, United Kingdom; Utah, United States / 2018-03-27

Paris climate agreement can be “most ambitious public health treaty ever”: Dr Maria Neira:

Action on climate change could have widespread benefits for air quality and health

Geneva, Switzerland; London, United Kingdom; Utah, United States
Shape Created with Sketch.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change should be considered “the most ambitious public health treaty ever” because the action required to stabilise the climate within a habitable zone and in an equitable way has deep implications for public health.

The World Health Organization’s Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health Dr Maria Neira made this point in a recent interview with the Financial Times, arguing that air pollution was first and foremost a health issue.

“The health argument is probably one of the most powerful that we have in our hands now: 6.5 million unacceptable premature deaths occurring every year and diseases like stroke, heavily related to exposure to air pollution, or ischaemic heart disease or lung cancer,” she said.

In fact, a recent study published in the Lancet concluded that by implementing the Paris Agreement, governments could save $54 trillion by 2050 in public health costs, in part associated with those associated with air pollution.

Her remarks come at a time when health professionals are recognising their crucial role in cutting deaths from air pollution, the world’s biggest environmental health crisis that is linked to 1 in 9 deaths and costs billions to trillions in lives and labour lost.

In March 2018, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, took the opportunity of the release of her Annual Report on the State of the Nation’s Health to make the point that “addressing pollution is… disease prevention”.

“Instead of being seen as a health issue, pollution is often seen primarily as an environmental problem. This needs to change. As a society we need to regain a focus on pollution as a threat to human health,” she said, calling on the government to do more to reduce air pollution.

Her call came a month after doctors in the state of Utah in the United States declared that there was no safe level of air pollution, at the launch of an annual report on nationwide research on the possible health effects of Utah’s air pollution problem.

Gathering at the state Capitol, the doctors aimed to put pressure on Utah’s legislative leaders to take a more aggressive stance on air pollution.

Dr Neira believes that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change has the potential to bring about huge shifts in habits and design that could have great impacts on public health and air pollution at the same time.

“The Paris treaty can be the most ambitious public health treaty ever– if implemented, of course,” she said, “because all the measures are very much about reducing emissions, and reducing emissions means protecting health, reducing the health cost, promoting a more conducive environment where you can have a healthier life, a less sedentary lifestyle where you can interact socially.”

“We are launching new data, we are providing all the evidence on the interventions that need to be put in place, and hopefully by doing that, we will mobilise more action and more sectors to get involved, including of course the health professionals, who have a critical role to play here in mobilising all of these and scaling up reaction to air pollution as one of the most critical public health issues that we are confronting now,” she said.

She praised cities for joining the BreatheLife campaign and committing to concrete actions and targets on air pollution.

The World Health Organization and the BreatheLife campaign works with health practitioners to build their capacity and knowledge to participate in the policymaking process on safeguarding air quality as well as to protect and treat patients from the ill-effects of air pollution while educating them on the issue.

The WHO is holding the first global conference on air pollution and health later this year.

Listen to the full programme and discussion with experts including Dr Maria Neira here:
Getting to grips with air pollution

Read more coverage here:
Air pollution: England’s chief medical officer calls for focus on health threat
There is no safe level of air pollution, Utah doctors declare during release of annual report at Capitol rally

The health impacts of air pollution are illustrated in new videos by the World Health Organization here.