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Health Organisations: COP28 “signals” alone from world leaders will not protect people’s health

As COP28 closes in Dubai, the health community commended agreements in the outcome text of COP28 that some countries noted as signaling the end of the fossil fuel era.

However, health groups denounced the summit’s failure to commit to a full phase out of fossil fuels, a critically urgent step towards protecting people’s health, and criticized the failure to commit to strong targets for adaptation to build resilient systems capable of protecting vulnerable people.

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“Signals alone are not enough – only real action to phase out fossil fuels will protect people’s health”, said Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, which represents 160 health professional and health civil society organizations and networks from around the world addressing climate change.

“While recognisable progress was made by COP28, the failure to find consensus on a full and fair phase out of fossil fuels is deeply problematic when people’s health and lives hang in the balance – with the highest price being paid by communities who have contributed least to the problem,” she said.

“Climate change is the greatest injustice of our time across generations. The inclusion of a health day at COP28 is a remarkable step forward. However, the active decision by world leaders to exclude a rapid and just fossil fuel phase out from the decision text clearly values profit over the health of marginalized people, notably children and youth, across the globe. Continuing fossil fuel extraction paves the way for augmenting the health threats and infringements of human rights of those most marginalized,” said Giulia Gasparri, co-founder of the Youth Climate and Health Network and project officer at PMNCH.

“We had a great opportunity here to protect human health with strong decisions on phasing out drivers of climate change, setting ambitious, time bound targets, and streamlining means of support for adaptation. Leaving without these will only prolong suffering, loss of lives, and destruction to health care systems. Leaders here dragged their feet and, in so doing, left our climate vulnerable communities behind,” said Charles Batte, Director, Tree Adoption Uganda.

“Fossil fuels are the leading driver of climate change and its health impacts, and inflict additional health hazards from the moment of extraction to combustion”, said Jess Beagley, Policy Lead at the Global Climate and Health Alliance. “While the COP28 final text clearly signals the impending end of the fossil fuel era, naming the need to end dependence on fossil fuels for the first time in a 30-year process, it leaves gaping and dangerous loopholes such as carbon capture and storage, ‘transitional fuels’ like fossil gas, and nuclear power, and does not clearly commit to a full, fair or funded fossil fuel phase out.”

Signals of the end of the fossil fuel era were nevertheless welcomed, as a pointer in the right direction. Health organizations also noted the events and activities at COP28 that elevated a focus on people’s health for the first time at a COP, including the COP28 Climate and Health Declaration, which received sign on by 142 countries (to date); the first ever official Health Day at COP; and an InterMinisterial meeting on climate and health that brought nearly 50 Ministers of Health and 110 high level health ministerial staff to COP for the first time.

With over 1900 delegates from the health sector attending COP this year, the effort to ensure that climate decisions are made with people’s lives and wellbeing at their heart gained momentum.

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