There must be a rapid and just transition across all sectors to address the far-reaching impacts of the climate crisis on human health and well-being, experts and campaigners stressed in a webinar hosted by Climate Tracker Asia.
Climate change is impacting health in many ways, including illness and death from extreme weather events such as heat waves, storms and floods, increases in zoonoses and water- and vector-borne diseases, and mental health issues, Health Care Without Harm Southeast Asia Climate Manager Jit Sohal said in a community hangout held last July 20.
Sohal added that exposure to air pollution can lead to a wide range of diseases.
“So we know the climate crisis is a health crisis. The most vulnerable and marginalized are usually the ones who are harmed first,” Sohal said. “This is really a major issue of equity and injustice.”
The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, in a report presented by its analyst Sunil Dahiya during the webinar, found that an estimated 4.5 million people died in 2018 due to exposure to air pollution from fossil fuel.
The report also showed that exposure to fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, from burning fossil fuels was also responsible for 1.8 billion days of work absence, four million new cases of child asthma, and two million preterm births that affect healthcare costs, economic productivity and welfare.
Greenpeace Philippines director Lea Guerrero pointed out that the health impacts of climate change are human stories.
“It’s about how people are actually experiencing trauma, experiencing mental unwellness, experiencing death in the family, lots of injuries and so forth,” she said.
“We’re entering an era that is unfriendly to human life,” Guerrero said as she called on the world’s biggest polluters to stop fossil fuel expansion and pay reparation for climate damage.
She added that the climate crisis must be recognized as a public health issue.
“There’s an opinion that the same actions that we do to stop climate and environmental crises are the same ones that will also secure public health,” Guerrero said.
Sohal also called on the entire healthcare sector to reduce their carbon footprint through a clean, sustainable and just transition. HCWH found that 84% of the healthcare sector’s emissions were from fossil fuel used to power hospitals, and manufacture and transport medical products.
“It should be beyond doing no harm to patients. It’s also doing no harm to the environment because the way we treat and protect the environment has impacts on patients,” she said.
Covering climate change from health lens
Former Climate Tracker fellows Hans Nicholas Jong and Nicha Wachpanich also provided insights on how to report on the health impacts of climate change.
Wachpanich, who covered the impacts of waste-to-energy facilities in Thailand, said it is essential to “add a human face” when reporting on the effects of the climate crisis.
Jong, an Indonesian journalist, agreed and said that humanizing the coverage of climate change makes it easier for ordinary people to understand the gravity of the situation.
Journalists and campaigners present in the webinar also stressed the importance of collaboration with one another.
“If we advocate just within the four walls of the health sector, we will achieve something, but we will not go beyond that. So we definitely need to work to collaborate with other environmental groups, and of course, the media if we want to actually see changes in the society,” Sohal said.