Reflections on the UN Climate Summit: Why healthcare must lead by example

  • Europe

Kornelia Bagi, Climate Policy & Membership Officer for HCWH Europe, reflects on the outcome of the UN Climate Summit and urges the healthcare sector to lead by example on climate action.

On 23 September, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted a global Climate Summit. World leaders met to discuss climate change for the first time since the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, five years ago. It was also a firm reminder for governments of the March 2015 deadline for presenting national commitments ahead of the critical Paris negotiations at the end of 2015.

Despite the expectations generated by the biggest ever climate mobilisation in history prior to the meeting, concrete commitments remained an exception to the rule. Many delegations merely presented their on-going activities and reiterated proposals that were already on the table. From the EU, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso also outlined existing plans, including the 40% carbon emissions reduction target to be confirmed by the European Council next month, while Denmark was among the few countries that pledged to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to 100 per cent renewable energy.

Co-benefits of climate action

"The health gains are among the largest and most immediate payoffs from low-carbon development choices"

— Kornelia Bagi

The urgency of the situation was more palpable during the thematic discussions. Participants of the Thematic Session on Climate Health and Jobs added their voices to growing concerns about climate change and called for swift action. The event concluded that taking action on climate change can improve our quality of life, bring economic and social gains by stimulating technological innovations, and open up new, greener employment opportunities. Still, the health gains are among the largest and most immediate payoffs from low-carbon development choices, particularly in relation to improved air quality.

Responsibility of the health sector

The health community is already actively engaged in the fight against climate change. Prior to the Summit, the World Health Organization held the first global Conference on Health and Climate. This placed public health higher on the climate change agenda and identified potential solutions. The health sector in England is the first globally to issue a collective statement of intent to deliver climate friendly services, as demonstrated by the cross-system statement for the UN Summit.

Healthcare professionals have already been active in raising awareness on the health co-benefits of greenhouse gas emission reductions. During Climate Week NYC, several health-related events took place, which raised the profile of climate-related health issues significantly. These included an event related to the business case of action and health gains, nutrition and the Civil Society Event on Action in Climate Change and Health.

Still, the health sector accounts for approximately 5% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. This figure is similar to the EU's international aviation and maritime transport activities, indicating a huge potential for action. The health sector should lead by example in reducing emissions and becoming more environmentally sustainable to protect the health of the population in the face of a changing climate. In order to do that, decision makers need to provide appropriate policy responses. They could start by reaching a meaningful global agreement in 2015.

 Kornelia Bagi, Climate Policy & Membership Officer (

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