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30 June 2021
PREVENT, - Air Quality

On May 19th-20th, EFA participated in the regional consultation meeting of the WHO Working Group on Health in Climate Change (WHO HIC), which was co-chaired by WHO-Europe and the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA), and belongs to a series of preparatory activities towards the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) that will be celebrated in November in Glasgow (United Kingdom). 

The goal of the WHO HIC consultation was to provide health policy recommendations on climate action, reinforce the cooperation between regional and global initiatives on climate change and health, promote leadership and innovative actions, and contribute to the WHO Manifesto for a Healthy and Green Recovery from COVID-19

As a civil society stakeholder, EFA brought the views of the allergy and respiratory community, emphasising climate change as a public health and healthcare crisis. Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is evident that our healthcare systems are vulnerable and easily overwhelmed. Similar challenges associated with the adverse health effects of climate change will threaten their efficacy. EFA's input takes the lessons learnt from the pandemic to look towards action against climate change and encourages to put the recovery of the health sector at the forefront.

The discussion focused on climate change mitigation, adaptation, building resilient and sustainable health systems across regions, better coordination between health and environmental policies, and mobilisation of the health community in climate policy decision-making processes. 

Respiratory patients such as those living with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are vulnerable to climate change. Extreme weather events such as heatwaves and wildfires, which are increasing climate hazards, jeopardise the lung health of all, but especially of those that already live with respiratory conditions. The lack of user-friendly, harmonised, and trustworthy monitoring systems for aeroallergens and pathogens makes allergic patients vulnerable to climate change, given the higher risk of release and mobility of foreign aero pathogens within the planet. Therefore, policies must address existing vulnerabilities and foster preparedness for foreseen and unforeseen health threats.

Further activities that bring together high-level policy representatives are needed to increase meaningful engagement with healthcare professionals and civil society. Activities should include large-scale awareness campaigns to help increase general understanding of the risks and consequences of climate change, and the need for sustainable health systems at the local, regional, and international level.

EFA also recommended a focus on health data, to make it more available, accurate and transparent to better comprehend the impact of climate change on health. Similarly, this focus should aim to adapt the latest technological advancements for a solution-oriented approach. We noted that climate justice, including accountability for polluters, should be included in the upcoming recommendations. 

After the consultation, EFA provided feedback on the proposed messages of the “WHO Paper of Zero Regrets: Scaling up action on climate mitigation and adaptation for health in the WHO European Region”. This messaging will be used for high-level decision-making at UN and WHO summits.

EFA would like to thank the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) of which we are members, for the invitation to participate in this meeting. It was a pleasure to represent over 200 million patients across Europe living with allergy and respiratory diseases, highlighting the impending need to address the adverse health risks associated with climate change.