At COP28, PAHO Assistant Director calls for regional solidarity to address health impacts of “triple planetary crisis” of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution

Climate change

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 4 December 2023 (PAHO) – The Assistant Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, has urged countries of the Americas to ensure the health impacts of climate change are taken on board as they continue to rebuild and strengthen health systems in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at Health and Climate Change in the Americas: How to protect people’s health in the climate crisis, a high-level event held on the sidelines of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, Dr. Sealey-Thomas highlighted that, in the Americas, the effects of climate change “are amplified by deficiencies in infrastructure and health systems to promote health, prevent diseases and effectively respond to crises, disasters, and emergencies.”

Climate change not only exacerbates existing health threats, but also has a disproportionate impact on communities in situations of vulnerability, as well as those living on the frontlines of climate change, including small island states of the Caribbean.

The Assistant Director underscored PAHO’s work to support countries of the Americas to develop climate-resilient health systems, including through the strengthening of health surveillance systems and the creation of Climate and Health Observatories and Climate Health Early Warning Systems, but urged that Member States must strengthen their actions to “better protect our health, that of future generations as well as the health of our planet.” The importance of this work was underscored by several PAHO Member States during discussions at COP28.

During COP28, PAHO representatives also met with Ms. Afke Van Rijn, the Director General of Environment and International Affairs at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management of the Government of Netherlands to discuss the CFIT Pact, an international partnership that aims to accelerate the sustainable production and use of information technology products. This would enable the Organization to help reduce its carbon footprint when it comes to supporting the strengthening of health infrastructure and the digitization of health systems.

COP28 takes place from 30 November until 12 December and brings countries of the world together at a critical juncture for transformative climate action, the half-way point towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 13 – to limit and adapt to climate change - as well as SDG3 – to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages – which is intrinsically linked to climate.

On 3 December, for the first time in the history of COP, a dedicated Health Day was held to discuss the interrelation between climate change and health. During this day, the World Health Organization (WHO) led over 40 million health professionals in demanding bold health and climate action.