46 Million Healthworkers to COP28 President: Fossil Fuel Interests Have No Place in Climate Talks
Climate change: A firefighter fighting against a veld-fire at  Jeffreys Bay, Eastern Cape Province, Republic of South Africa

A group of international health organisations representing 46 million healthcare workers, has published an open letter to the COP28 president Dr Ahmed Al Jaber demanding an “end to the fossil fuel era” at the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Dubai (29 November-12 December). Al Jaber, is the United Arab Emirates Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology as well as Special Envoy for Climate Change.

Meanwhile, an official declaration set to be signed by the world’s  Ministers of Health at the first-ever  UNC climate conference “Health Day” makes no reference to the fossil fuel phase out at all. On the plus, side, the final version, seen by Health Policy Watch, makes reference to a “just transition” in energy consumption as well as the important of reducing air pollution – much of which is emitted from climate-polluting sources.

The letter organized by two civil society organizations, Health Care Without Harm and the Global Climate and Health Alliance, uses stronger language than the official declaration:

“Fossil fuel interests have no place at climate negotiations,” states the letter, signed by some two dozen heads of global and regional associations and federations of health workers.

It demands that “countries commit to an accelerated, just and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels as the decisive path to health for all” at the annual UN climate conference.

“Ending our dangerous dependency on fossil fuels will improve the health prospects of future generations and will save lives. Keeping the global temperature increase within the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreeement.”

“A full and rapid phase-out of fossil fuels is the most significant way to provide the clean air, water, and environment that are foundational to good health,” the open letter further states. “We cannot rely on unreliable and inadequate solutions, like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), that extend the use of fossil fuels but do not generate the real and immediate health improvements which a renewable energy transition provides. False solutions like CCS risk making harmful emissions worse, straining the health of overburdened communities and delaying our progress toward meaningful climate progress.”

Exclude fossil fuel industry representatives from COP

Can fossil fuels give way to solar power? COP28 UAE’s host is a petrostate – where fossil fuel pressures are keen to slow or stop the clean energy transition.

Another key demand of the appeal is that fossil fuel industry representatives be excluded from climate negotiations.

“Fossil fuel interests have no place at climate negotiations…. Just as the tobacco industry is not allowed to participate in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, it is imperative to safeguard global collaboration on climate progress from the lobbying, disinformation, and delays in favour of industry interests,” states the letter.

Last year’s COP27 saw a record number of representatives for the oil and gas industry in attendance, and this year the number is expected to be higher.

The letter, supported by organisations that represent 46.3 million health professionals such as the World Medical Association, World Federation of Public Health Association and International Council of Nurses, outlines the critical need to protect  human health by reducing dependence on fossil fuels, rapidly investing in clean energy technology and reducing air pollution – all from the perspective that public health will benefit from this rapid transition. This letter is also endorsed by leading medical journals such as the British Medical Journal.

“As representatives of the global medical community, … we are already seeing the impacts of the climate crisis on our health – heat stress, malnutrition, anxiety, vector-borne diseases, respiratory illnesses due to dirty air to name a few. Extreme weather events have another far reaching impact- hospitals and healthcare centres that are meant to provide cure and relief are often first in the line of fire, with access and infrastructure getting hit. Our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels will only aggravate this further. This is why we think that a rapid transition to clean and equitable forms of energy is a win-win on all fronts,” stated Dr. Lujain Alqodmani, President, World Medical Association.

“For the first time in the history of climate talks, there will be an entire day dedicated to health, providing an opportunity to address the direct health impacts of climate change on individual wellbeing and health care systems,” said Josh Karliner of Healthcare Without Harm.

“Health Day is a fantastic achievement to be celebrated. But unless the UAE COP Presidency and the world’s governments, including the health ministers attending health day, can address fossil fuels as the root cause of the climate crisis, it will call the credibility of health day and the COP process itself into question.”

When disaster strikes, healthcare at the forefront

Climate change: when disaster strikes, the health sector is at the forefront.

When disaster strikes, hospitals and health care centres are often at the forefront,” added Dr. Pam Cipriano, President, International Council of Nurses. “They are also the epicenter of addressing the escalating and noxious effects of climate change that are robbing people of their health. We are seeing more people come into our health care centres, hospitals and clinics complaining of heat exhaustion, respiratory issues and allergies, second hand smoke exposure among other things.

“We firmly believe that COP28 is an opportunity to adopt unified solutions and take action to implement mitigation and adaptation policies that also protect our health. This means phasing out “dirty energy” like coal, oil and gas that have negative impacts on health and the environment and prioritising clean energy sources. We must invest in a healthy and climate-safe future–the time to act on this is now.”

“The Elders”, a group of senior leaders founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela working for peace, justice and sustainability,  also added their support, “calling on the COP28 Presidency and all countries to commit to an accelerated, just and equitable phase-out of all fossil fuels.

“To safeguard the well-being of future generations, we must sever our dangerous reliance on fossil fuels and move quickly to support a transition into renewable energy so we can stay within the 1.5°C limit pledged in Paris. Without a resolute commitment to phasing out fossil fuels, we risk undoing our hard-won progress in safeguarding human health,” they stated.

Health Day Declaration makes no mention of fossil fuels

Global Young Greens protestors demanding the end of fossil fuels at last year’s UN Climate Conference in Sharm el Sheikh (COP27).

In terms of the absence of any reference to fossil fuels in the official Health Day declaration, the United States – not the UAE – pressured for more indirect language, sources told Health Policy Watch.

Since the main COP negotiations are anyway going to focus on the framing of the fossil fuel issue – US negotiators preferred not to draw that central controversy into the Health Day declaration, the sources said.

“We did manage to get in just transition and a reference to air pollution.  But no strong language on fossil fuels; countries did not want to pre-empt the wider discussions at COP,” said one diplomatic source.

The letter, organized by civil society groups, pulls no punches. It affirms that, “a rapid and full and rapid phase-out of fossil fuels is the most significant way to address health impacts of climate change.”

However it also does stress that unlocking more finance for low and middle income countries is the essential path to deliver an energy transition that is “just and equitable to all.”

Image Credits: Pixabay, Commons Wikimedia, Gellscom/CC BY-ND 2.0., Commons Wikimedia, Twitter/Global Young Greens.

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