GERMANY — A draft “health and climate ministerial declaration” set to be unveiled at the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Dubai (COP28) has notably excluded any mention of fossil fuels and their adverse health effects, according to insights obtained by Health Policy Watch.

Although the declaration acknowledges the importance of climate mitigation and briefly touches upon the health implications of air pollution, the primary focus and commitments revolve around adapting health systems to climate change.

A negotiator who had access to the draft text confirmed the omission of any reference to fossil fuels. The text began circulating among UN member states, raising concerns about the lack of attention to the primary driver of climate change.

Speaking about the as-yet-unpublished declaration at a session during the World Health Summit, a senior official from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the host of COP28, emphasized the urgency of integrating health into climate discussions.

However, Dr. Maha Barakat, an assistant foreign minister, did not reference fossil fuels or the pressing need for their phase-out in energy, transportation, and urban development to mitigate health impacts.

The declaration’s focus appears to center on health sector adaptation to climate change, increasing access to climate adaptation finance for the health sector, and incorporating health into climate policies.

The UAE plans to host a day dedicated to health, relief, recovery, and peace during COP28 and is sponsoring the first-ever Health Ministerial meeting, signaling an emphasis on health-related climate messages at the conference.

The three highlighted action areas in the declaration include the need for stronger climate adaptation in the health sector itself, an increase in climate financing for public health, and breaking down silos between health and other sectors in the climate response.

Despite the positive aspects of the declaration, experts have raised concerns about the absence of references to fossil fuels, a critical contributor to climate change.

The omission is seen as a major oversight, given the urgent need for a fossil fuel phase-out to address the health impacts of extreme weather, heat, and diseases driven by rising temperatures.

Jeni Miller, head of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, stressed the importance of mitigation and phasing out fossil fuels, which are the primary drivers of climate change.

She underlined that addressing fossil fuels is critical to reducing emissions and curbing the harmful effects of air pollution.

The declaration’s focus on carbon-efficient and climate-resilient health facilities and green building codes in the housing sector offers potential examples for other industries to follow.

Nevertheless, the failure to address fossil fuels, despite their significant role in climate change and health impacts, remains a notable shortcoming.

In discussions at the Berlin climate and health events, experts emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach to climate action, including remaking transportation, energy, urban design, and health systems to harness the full spectrum of health co-benefits from climate action.

The interconnection between climate mitigation and health is clear, and efforts must encompass multiple sectors to address the health outcomes of cleaner transport, energy production, and urban development.

The declaration has received endorsements from over a dozen member states and country champions.

However, the influence of global health institutions and experts on the declaration’s references to fossil fuels remains uncertain, as the UAE, a significant fossil fuel producer, holds a leading role in the COP28 conference.

The link between climate change and health becomes more evident each day, with diseases like malaria on the rise due to increasing temperatures and extreme weather events affecting people worldwide.

While the COP28 President urged nations to endorse the Declaration on Climate and Health, the absence of any reference to fossil fuels in the statement highlights the ongoing challenge of addressing this critical issue on the global stage.

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