01 December 2021
PREVENT, - Air Quality

From 31 October-12 November, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) celebrated its 26th Conference of Parties, or so-called COP26, in Glasgow, under the presidency of the United Kingdom. COP26 is the highest-level international forum that brings together world leaders to engage in climate change negotiations, where allergy and airways diseases patients have their health outcomes at stake.

EFA is Observer to UNFCCC and is engaging in climate change advocacy to highlight the role of climate change as key determinants of health. The increasingly frequent, extreme phenomena such as heatwaves, wildfires, sandstorms and droughts bear a huge burden for the whole population. However, those particularly affected include people living with chronic respiratory diseases such as allergy, asthma and COPD, who may see their symptoms exacerbate, as well as an increased risk for hospitalisations.

For the first time in its history, this year’s COP gave a strong focus on health and the multiple interlinks between health and climate change. This was reflected in an executive Health Programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) that sought to enable national-level commitments on five main priorities:

  • Building climate resilient health systems
  • Developing low carbon sustainable health systems
  • Adaptation research for health
  • Inclusion of health priorities in Nationally Determined Contributions, and 
  • Raising the voice of health professionals as advocates for stronger ambition on climate change.

EFA’s Member Asthma UK/British Lung Foundation was the only patient group that actively joined COP26 with a strong campaign against air pollution. Their main message #CleantheAir urged politicians to take immediate action through laws and policies that will save lives and help millions of people living with asthma.

Furthermore, EFA participated in the Global Conference on Health and Climate Change, a side event to COP26 organised by WHO and the Global Climate & Health Alliance, among others. The distinguished keynote speakers, including the WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard, joined their voice in a key message: ‘The climate crisis is also a health crisis’.

The Conference explored key topics which underline the various faces of the climate crisis, including the subsequent inequalities, its implications for mental health, as well as key generational justice aspects. It was stressed that climate change, as a global challenge, presents a strong imperative to step out of our comfort zone and take urgent action across sectors such as energy, food systems, transport, and finance.

The breakout sessions that followed focused on questions around these sectoral aspects of the climate crisis: How does our energy consumption impact air quality? How can transport and overall urban planning be transformed to allow for more climate-friendly cities? And how can we ensure sustainable food systems and biodiversity?

Next to the absolutely necessary political will, community action and awareness were highlighted as key elements of the much-needed transitions. To this end, EFA will continue showcasing newest evidence and advocating for change for the benefit of patients living with chronic respiratory diseases.

You can see the full agenda of the Global Conference on Health and Climate Change here.