Global coalition on health, environment and climate change launched

The heads of the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Environment and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have launched a new global coalition on health, environment and climate change.

One of its overall goals is to reduce the annual 12.6 million deaths caused by environmental risks, and especially air pollution.

According to WHO figures, an estimated 7 million people die prematurely every year from air pollution related diseases, including strokes and heart disease, respiratory illness and cancer. Air pollution in most major cities exceeds WHO air quality standards.

Many pollutants which damage health also harm the environment and contribute to climate change. These include black carbon from diesel engines, cooking stoves and waste incineration, and ground level ozone, which are harmful but are short lived in the atmosphere. It is estimated that reductions in short-lived climate pollutant emissions from sources like traffic, cookstoves, agriculture and industry could help trim the rate of global warming by about 0.5°C by 2050.

WMO already closely collaborates with both the WHO and UNEP, but within the new coalition called for at COP21 in Marrakesh, WMO (through national meteorological services) will strengthen action specifically targeting health protection from environment and climate change related risks.

This will be through better provision of climate services such as seasonal outlooks can improve management of climate-sensitive diseases like cholera and malaria, heat-health warnings against the growing problem of heatwaves, and multi-hazard early warning services against high-impact events like tropical cyclones.

The coalition begins with a joint focus on Air Quality outlining five areas of joint work. WMO’s observing network, its Sand and Dust Storm Warning and Alert System (SDS-WAS) and its Global Atmosphere Watch stations, which monitor the atmosphere, will be underpinning to the global drive to improve air quality mapping and monitoring.

The SDS-WAS can play an important role in knowing when and where dust storms may occur, to allow health partners to plan more effectively and benefit from WMO global atmospheric monitoring and forecasting capacity on acute episodes of hazardous air quality – such as dust storms.

The new global coalition on health, environment and climate change will seek to pool expertise and achieve greater coordination. One of the most immediate outcomes of the coalition will be a Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, which will take place in Geneva 30 October to 1 November.

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