More than 40 nations pledged to cut carbon emissions from their health industries by 2030 in an international “worldwide commitment” the group said was “unprecedented” and would avoid “hazardous” consequences if it were implemented.
“Such a commitment by more than 40 nations across all sectors of the health economy is unprecedented,” said Dr. Seetanah Lutchmeenarayan, director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinated the effort.
The pledge comes on the heels of a declaration last December in support of goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
At the summit in Berlin, Poland, that declaration called for “worldwide action” to tackle climate change.
“Despite greater commitment to multilateral cooperation for climate action by the incoming U.S. government, we must continue to build on and strengthen the gains made on climate and energy,” said Dr. Lutchmeenarayan.
The goal was to reduce health pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in places where fossil fuels are burned. The health sector was the first to “solely and exclusively” work to adapt to a changing climate.
“The health sector is highly relevant to the work already being done to address climate change in many regions around the world,” Dr. Lutchmeenarayan said.
Global warming can increase the risk of heatwaves and other weather-related illnesses, and cause serious pollution. Environmental and energy issues affect health in many ways, including air pollution, toxic chemicals and potential loss of genetic material.
Other sectors that included health included development, buildings, water, agriculture, and farming. These economies represented billions of people and would make the biggest impact on the global climate, Dr. Lutchmeenarayan said.
Under the agreement, countries pledged to limit greenhouse gas emissions in any future decades. Dr. Lutchmeenarayan said the targets met the needs of many countries.
Although the goal was ambitious, “we are encouraged that more nations than ever have signed on to climate action,” said Dr. Renate Wohlleben, executive director of UNFCCC-UNEP, a United Nations body.
The final text said the commitments should achieve a temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. The target in the Paris Agreement set the world on a pathway to 1.5 degrees Celsius in place of the rise after the Industrial Revolution.
The action agreed on in Berlin, Dr. Lutchmeenarayan said, is based on countries’ domestic policies — but would help.
“It is the responsibility of all nations to use existing policies to accelerate and intensify actions and investments in climate action,” the Berlin declaration said.
“Implementing a comprehensive energy efficiency and renewables pathway is the only way to transform the energy sector and transform the energy supply, while dramatically reducing harmful emissions,” said Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, who heads the UN Environmental Program’s Clean Energy Initiative.
UN efforts are linked to policies in the more than 100 countries “which account for 98 per cent of the world’s energy economy,” she said.
“The climate conference in Katowice has the opportunity to do even more to overcome the political paralysis that has hindered progress and to deliver a universal climate agreement that reaches the fundamental targets that we have set,” Dr. Lutchmeenarayan said.
At the same time, she added, the next milestone in climate discussions is the COP24 in Poland next year.