The UNFCCC (Climate Change Convention)
and Health

The following excerpts from the UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) highlight the important intersections between climate change, health impacts (as well as environmental and economic impacts), and policy.

UNFCCC

Opened for Signature: New York, 9 May 1992
Entered into Force: 21 March 1994 (Article 23)

Article 1 UNFCCC DEFINITIONS

For the purposes of this Convention:

1.

"Adverse effects of climate change" means changes in the physical environment or biota resulting from climate change which have significant deleterious effects on the composition, resilience or productivity of natural and managed ecosystems or on the operation of socio-economic systems or on human health and welfare.

2.

"Climate change" means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

3.

"Climate system" means the totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere and their interactions.

Article 2 UNFCCC OBJECTIVE

The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.


Article 3 UNFCCC PRINCIPLES

In their actions to achieve the objective of the Convention and to implement its provisions, the Parties shall be guided, inter alia, by the following:

1.

The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

[...]

3.

The Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures, taking into account that policies and measures to deal with climate change should be cost-effective so as to ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost. To achieve this, such policies and measures should take into account different socio- economic contexts, be comprehensive, cover all relevant sources, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and adaptation, and comprise all economic sectors. Efforts to address climate change may be carried out cooperatively by interested Parties.

Article 4 UNFCCC COMMITMENTS

1.

All Parties, taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and their specific national and regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances, shall:

(c)

Promote and cooperate in the development, application and diffusion, including transfer, of technologies, practices and processes that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol in all relevant sectors, including the energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management sectors;

(f)

Take climate change considerations into account, to the extent feasible, in their relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions, and employ appropriate methods, for example impact assessments, formulated and determined nationally, with a view to minimizing adverse effects on the economy, on public health and on the quality of the environment, of projects or measures undertaken by them to mitigate or adapt to climate change;

(i)

Promote and cooperate in education, training and public awareness related to climate change and encourage the widest participation in this process, including that of non-governmental organizations;

3.

The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in annex II shall provide new and additional financial resources to meet the agreed full costs incurred by developing country Parties in complying with their obligations under Article 12, paragraph 1. They shall also provide such financial resources, including for the transfer of technology, needed by the developing country Parties to meet the agreed full incremental costs of implementing measures that are covered by paragraph 1 of this Article and that are agreed between a developing country Party and the international entity or entities referred to in Article 11, in accordance with that Article. The implementation of these commitments shall take into account the need for adequacy and predictability in the flow of funds and the importance of appropriate burden sharing among the developed country Parties.

4.

The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in annex II shall also assist the developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation to those adverse effects.

5.

The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in annex II shall take all practicable steps to promote, facilitate and finance, as appropriate, the transfer of, or access to, environmentally sound technologies and know-how to other Parties, particularly developing country Parties, to enable them to implement the provisions of the Convention. In this process, the developed country Parties shall support the development and enhancement of endogenous capacities and technologies of developing country Parties. Other Parties and organizations in a position to do so may also assist in facilitating the transfer of such technologies.

[....]

8.

In the implementation of the commitments in this Article, the Parties shall give full consideration to what actions are necessary under the Convention, including actions related to funding, insurance and the transfer of technology, to meet the specific needs and concerns of developing country Parties arising from the adverse effects of climate change and/or the impact of the implementation of response measures, especially on:

(a)

Small island countries;

(b)

Countries with low-lying coastal areas;

(c)

Countries with arid and semi-arid areas, forested areas and areas liable to forest decay;

(d)

Countries with areas prone to natural disasters;

(e)

Countries with areas liable to drought and desertification;

(f)

Countries with areas of high urban atmospheric pollution;

(g)

Countries with areas with fragile ecosystems, including mountainous ecosystems;

(h)

Countries whose economies are highly dependent on income generated from the production, processing and export, and/or on consumption of fossil fuels and associated energy-intensive products; and

(i)

Land-locked and transit countries.

9.

The Parties shall take full account of the specific needs and special situations of the least developed countries in their actions with regard to funding and transfer of technology.

[....]


Global Warming Thermometer

The health and humanitarian dimensions of climate change are among the ultimate justifications for taking action on climate change and these are closely interlinked. Humanitarian assistance provides a strong health imperative to save lives and alleviate the suffering of crisis-affected populations. Climate change mitigation and adaptation, in particular, are important for the protection of health of vulnerable populations from both sudden and slow onset climate-related emergencies....

The health of millions of people is impacted each year by the acute and long-term effects of climate, including humanitarian emergencies. Climate change is happening now and it inevitably affects the basic requirements for health: clean air and water, sufficient food and adequate shelter....

In sum, climate change threatens to reverse the progress that the global public health community has been making against many diseases, and increase the challenges for the humanitarian community to respond to natural, biological and social emergencies. 

— World Health Organization, Protecting the health of vulnerable people from the humanitarian consequences of climate change and climate-related disasters, 2009


The UNFCCC text shows that dangerous climate change is clearly and specifically defined as health, environmental and economic safety from deleterious impacts of interference with the climate system. This definition also includes the notion of equity of protection, including for future generations. Those in the healthcare professions are certainly qualified to speak out on health impacts and health protection when it comes to climate disruption. 

(Visit the UNFCCC website for the full text) 

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