DUBAI: The 28th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP28) opens on Thursday in Dubai, with a climate-health ministerial meet to be held for the first time to build consensus on priority actions for the health system's response on climate change, along with financing commitments for implementation.
The 'Health Day at COP28' is on December 3 and as per the information gathered by TNIE, close to 70 countries have confirmed sending their ministers. But there is no official communication from the Indian government on sending its health ministerial delegation to the COP28 talks as on Wednesday.
A reliable source in the Union health ministry confirmed that as on date neither the Union health minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, state ministers in the health and welfare department or any secretary rank health official are attending the COP28.
Dr Aakash Shrivastava, head, Centre for Environmental Health and Occupational Health, Climate Change and Health at National Centre for Disease Control in New Delhi, told TNIE he was not sure of the Indian health delegation's participation. "The (health) ministry will take a call," he said. With just three days to go for the Health Day, it looks highly unlikely, say sources, adding, however, that last-minute changes can't be ruled out.
Jess Beagley, Policy Lead, Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA), told TNIE: "The first ever COP Climate-Health Ministerial is an opportunity to more deeply integrate health and climate decision making. Despite climate and health considerations being intrinsically linked, these processes too often remain siloed. It is regrettable that India is not attending this pivotal meeting, especially given the high burden of air pollution in the country, which could be substantially addressed through considering health in climate action."
According to the GCHA Clean Air NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) Scorecard, released in October 2023, India scores only 2 out of 15 available points for integrating air quality considerations into its NDCs.
"The lack of deeper integration of air quality and health considerations, especially given the high rate of air pollution mortality, is a grave missed opportunity for optimising integrated action on climate and clean air. The provision of finance by developed countries to developing countries to support healthy climate action is vital," Beagley said, who is also a co-char of Climate Action Network's Health Working Group at COP28.
Only recently, India's capital city New Delhi was gasping for breath with several air pollution levels putting its population at risk. India was the world's eight most polluted country in 2022 with PM2.5 level of 53.3 micrograms/cubic metre, which is over 10 times the World Health Organisation's safe limit. The ranking was decided by Swiss firm IQAir in its 'World Air Quality Report' released earlier this month.
Air pollution in India resulted in 1.67 million deaths in 2019—the largest pollution-related death toll in any country in the world—and also accounted for $36.8 billion in economic losses, according to a new study led by researchers from the Global Observatory on Pollution and Health at Boston College, the Indian Council of Medical Research, and the Public Health Foundation of India. The 2019 death toll attributed to air pollution in India accounted for 17.8 percent of all deaths in the country in 2019, according to the study’s findings, published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.
Climate change also worsens heatwaves, infectious diseases, compromises food and water security and mental health, experts say.
Despite all this, if the Union government abstains from the health ministerial meeting at the COP28, "it suggests health is not a top priority for them. No discussion on climate change and its impact on the population is complete without recognising the crucial link with public health. There is a need to prioritise it in the climate negotiations. Different study reports say 90% of people breathing air exceeding WHO air quality limits, leading to millions of premature deaths in India annually. Active participation in the proposed Climate and Health Declaration at COP28 should have been given the priority it deserves," said Bhavreen Kandhari, environmentalist and co-founder of Warrior Moms.
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