Paris Round-up | The New Climate Treaty and Health Care Action

COP 21 is over. Government ministers from around the world have completed work on the Paris Treaty and have headed home after two weeks of intense negotiations. The accord they finalized, while far from perfect is a major step in the direction of moving the world away from fossil fuels and toward 100% renewable energy in the coming decades. 

If truly implemented, this treaty could become known as the greatest public health accomplishment of our time. Indeed, the Paris Moment may well be remembered as that instant in history when civilization changed course and took on its greatest existential threat. That, of course, depends on how well the agreement can be both implemented and then ratcheted up over time.  

There are many analyses emerging of what happened in Paris and its implications for the future, including from the Global Coalition for Climate Action.   

This blog post focuses on what happened around health in Paris and what Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and our allies achieved on the road to Paris and particularly during the “Paris Moment.”  

In the lead-up to and during the Paris negotiations HCWH played a leadership role, working with allies and partners around the world, to mobilize health care to address climate change—a multi-faceted problem that The Lancet has called a growing “health emergency,” as well as the “greatest health threat” and “greatest health opportunity” of the 21st century.

While some of our allies have rightly focused on influencing the language in the Treaty itself,  and while we had a presence at a number of side events in Le Bourget, HCWH saw the Paris Moment primarily as an opportunity to focus health care’s attention around the world on this crucial issue. Our aim was to use Paris as a pivot point to build worldwide health care action on climate well into the future. As HCWH Co-Founder and President, Gary Cohen points out in his blog post, "Our imperative to address climate change will transform health care in fundamental ways over the next two decades."

The 2020 Challenge

2020 low res logo no gghhOur primary vehicle to mobilize healthcare for Paris and beyond on climate was and is the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge which we launched in April, 2015. Based on three pillars of mitigation, resilience and leadership, the 2020 Challenge aims to bring together health care institutions from around the world who are already leading the charge on climate change, with the goal of scaling it up to a broader swath of the health care community and measuring carbon footprint reduction around the world in coming years.

By the time Paris rolled around we were well on our way. On December 3 we were able to announce that a total of 67 participants, representing more than 8200 hospitals and health centers in 19 countries had joined—setting targets for emissions reduction, and pledging to exert leadership on climate change.  

HCWH is also calling on the US health care sector, which, if it were a country would have greenhouse gas emissions greater than all of France’s, to lead the way and reduce its emissions by 25% by 2020 and 50% by 2025.  Several members of the US Health Care Climate Council were with us in Paris; leaders in carbon mitigation all, they provided examples of just how feasible such a target is. 

Many 2020 Challenge participants joined us in Paris on December 3 for the first Health Care Climate Leadership Roundtable. The Roundtable took place at the oldest hospital in Paris, Pitié-Salpêtrière, in a building built before the French revolution.   We were hosted by APHP—Paris’ prestigious public hospital system.   The Roundtable, a 30 person closed-door meeting, was the first global gathering ever of health systems working on climate change. Major health care systems and organizations from Europe, the U.S., and Asia, along with representatives from WHO and other UN agencies came together to share experiences and strategies, while forging plans to scale-up health care engagement on climate change.

At the Roundtable, the U.S. system, Dignity Health, announced that it was divesting from coal.By doing so, Dignity joined the British and Canadian Medical Association, as well as Gundersen Health System as health leaders in the fossil fuel divestment movement.  

Several health systems also signed the 2020 Challenge at the Roundtable itself, including  our French hosts APHP, the global health care group BUPA, Vivantes Hospital in Berlin, BUND—a group of 25 hospitals leading the low carbon health care movement in Germany, and the Public Health Foundation of India.

The following day, December 4, we co-organized a day-long conference on Climate Change and Health Care together with the French Hospital Federation and several other partners at the Georges Pompidou Hospital, one of the most modern hospitals in Paris, and also part of the public system. The event featured a rich series of panels with speakers from a diversity of regions sharing in depth experiences on how to foster low carbon health care, including renewable energy, purchasing, economics and policy.  

At the Conference, we issued our First Annual 2020 Challenge Climate Champion Awards to 15 Challenge participants from 5 continents for their achievements in carbon mitigation, climate resiliency, and climate leadership. From health systems in Taiwan preparing for the impacts of climate change; to systems in the US making major in energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass; to New Zealand, where major work has been undertaken to improve efficiency and reduce energy use in existing facilities, the 2020 Challenge Climate Champion award winners for 2015 are made up of leaders from the global health sector at the forefront of the movement towards low-carbon health care.

The conference was the culmination of a series of events HCWH had organized around the world in preceding months, which were designed to build momentum for the 2020 Challenge and health care engagement on climate change in general.   For instance, at a Latin American regional conference on climate and health care organized by the Bogota City government, WHO, PAHO and HCWH, participants called “upon health sector colleagues and governments to act to protect population health from the effects of climate change and air pollution, and to promote development based on clean, renewable and healthy energy.” At an Asia regional conference in Seoul, health systems gathered there called on  “the entire healthcare sector in the region to come together and act as one in mitigating climate change.” And the US Health Care Climate Council, meeting in Washington DC, called on global leaders to take decisive action that will protect human health from climate change, both now and for future generations. HCWH also co-organized or participated in similar events in the lead-up to Paris in Sao Paulo, Beijing, Manila, Durban, and more.  

The Paris Platform for Healthy Energy

Parallel to all of our work with hospitals and health systems, HCWH’s Healthy Energy Initiative was also actively engaged in the lead-up to Paris and during COP21 as well. The Healthy Energy Initiative is a collaborative effort with partners in eight countries to address the health impacts of energy choices. Recognizing that more than 7 million people die every year from air pollution, much of it related to fossil fuel combustion, particularly coal, the Health Energy Initiative seeks to engage the health sector in advocating for a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy. 

To this end, we created the Paris Platform for Healthy Energy as a way to reflect this common agenda across borders and to engage ever greater numbers of health sector actors in this advocacy. In Paris we were able to announce that the platform was endorsed by 44 organizations representing the health sector in more than 80 countries, demonstrating a commitment to leadership and advocacy for clean, renewable, healthy energy choices in order to protect public health from both climate change and local pollution. With both Beijing and Delhi covered in deadly shrouds of coal-induced smog while negotiators met to determine how to best address climate change, the Paris Platform became a particularly poignant public health pronouncement.

On December 7, three Healthy Energy Initiative partners --  groundWork, South Africa; Climate and Health Alliance, Australia; and HCWH-Asia -- all screened films at the Cost of Coal Film Festival, held at an art gallery in the Marais in central Paris, an event organized by the NGO Pacific Environment.

Prior to Paris the Healthy Energy Initiative also co-organized the India launch of the Lancet Commission Report together with a national meeting on climate, energy, and health  with the Public Health Foundation of India. The Initiative’s partners around the world also organized events, released reports, and issued calls to action in the Philippines, South AfricaAustraliaGermany, Poland, Turkey, and globally to build support for clean air, healthy energy, and climate action.   

The Climate and Health Summit and the Global Climate and Health Alliance

When HCWH organized the first Climate and Health Summit at COP 17 in Durban back in 2011, we had hoped it would become an annual event. Thanks to the Global Climate and Health Alliance, of which we are a founding member,  and the World Health Organization, that wish has virtually come true.

The fourth Climate and Health Summit took place in Paris on December 5. The event, moderated by the Guardian’s John Vidal, featured leading health voices from around the world. Health Care Without Harm featured prominently in the event,  with three of our representatives speaking on panels. The Summit concluded with a closing plenary where HCWH President Gary Cohen spoke, and then a ceremony marking the various health initiatives that were organized in relation to COP21, including the Paris Platform and the 2020 Challenge. All told, an unprecedented alliance of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals representing over 1700 health organizations, 8,200 hospitals and 13 million health professionals came together around the Paris Moment.

In the lead-up to the Summit, HCWH also co-sponsored two reports: one with the World Federation of Public Health Associations and others that reveals the need for national governments around the world to strengthen their policy planning efforts to address the health risks of climate change. The other, entitled Health and Climate at COP21 and Beyond, was published by the Global Climate and Health Alliance, and provided analysis of what is needed from a global climate treaty to protect public health. 

Following the Summit, the Global Climate and Health Alliance met and began making plans for not only 2016’s Summit, but also for more concerted collaborative health sector action on climate change.  

Beyond Paris

With the Paris moment behind us, the health sector is gaining momentum. Never have so many health professionals, organizations, institutions, hospitals and systems come together to advocate on climate change. Never has there been so much media coverage of the health impacts of climate change and the health sector response.   The momentum has been building over the past five years. Paris is an inflection point. It is now time to take action.

Health Care Without Harm stands committed to continue to mobilize the health sector to implement and build on the Paris accord by working with hospitals and health systems around the world to reduce their own carbon footprint, prepare for the already growing impacts of climate change, and play a leadership role to foster policy and economic measures that protect local and global health from climate change. (see HCWH statement on the final Paris Agreement).     
Join us in protecting public health from climate change.  
Josh Karliner, for the HCWH team