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The following address was delivered by UNFCCC Deputy Executive Secretary Richard Kinley to the World Health Organization's Second Global Conference on Health and Climate on July 7, 2016.

It is a genuine pleasure to be with you today to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. At the outset I would like to acknowledge the leadership of the French Government, not only in delivering the Agreement, barely 7 months ago, but now in actively promoting its rapid entry into force and its effective implementation.

I would also salute the leadership of Dr. Chan and my colleagues in WHO who have so effectively brought together the health and climate change dimensions of sustainable development and put the issue on the agenda.

It is a great honour to be part of such a distinguished array of opening speakers. It is also a great risk! Much of what I planned to say has already been said. Rather than repeat the compelling case for why climate change IS a huge public health policy issue, allow me to focus on how the Paris Agreement can help you in the health sector build healthier societies.

First, the Paris Agreement is something the international community can be proud of – and I certainly am!

  • It sets an ambitious goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2C, ideally below 1.5C;
  • It prescribes climate neutrality in the second half of the century;
  • It ensures that from now on, adaptation is treated with the same urgency as the need to reduce emissions;
  • And it encompasses the many issues that will be affected by climate change, including health.

You have heard the arguments why climate change is a health issue – the impacts of heat waves and changing disease patterns, not to mention air pollution and related issues. The impacts will drive up health costs but even more fundamentally they will harm, sometimes fatally, people and families and this is the compelling argument for urgent action.

Ahead of the Paris Climate Change Conference, almost all countries submitted climate action plans. These so-called Nationally Determined Contributions detail what each country will contribute to the Paris Agreement, primarily in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also adaptation to climate change impacts. They will be updated and strengthened every five years.

Roughly two thirds of these Nationally Determined Contributions, mention health as a priority, mostly in the context of adaptation, but some also mention health in the context of emission reductions.

However, on emission reductions, the sum total of these Contributions does not guarantee the necessary mitigation needed to reach the 2 C. goal, let alone 1.5 C. Current ambition only takes us to 2.7C. So, the need for action is urgent as the science points to the need to peak global emissions in the next 5 years and to drive them down rapidly thereafter.

This is where you in the heath sector can play a crucial role in changing the path the world is following and thereby build healthier societies.

I would call on you in the health sector to become even more engaged now in the process of implementing these national plans in your countries and of increasing the level of ambition before 2020 and in the next 5 year cycle.

The voice of health ministers at the Cabinet table, and in parliaments and public debates, will be critical to building a stronger constituency of support for implementation of what is already planned. And also for strengthening ambition as soon as possible. The policy choices are not always easy ones and political leadership will be required to achieve the obvious benefits. Health ministers can also help to ensure that Heads of State and Government provide the necessary government-wide direction for climate action and low carbon development.

Officials in the health sector have a key role in building health concerns into the NDCs, and in integrating the NDCs into national development plans and the low carbon development strategies that the Paris Agreement requires by 2020.

And health professionals need to be part of this wide mobilization as well, to bring in ideas and solutions and to build public support.

I need to underline that this is not only about emission reductions. The world is already committed to important levels of climate disruption. The health sector will need to deal with the consequences – in hospitals and in clinics, and in health policies.

Action on adapting to climate disruption and building resilience is also central to the Paris Agreement, either through the Nationally Determined Contributions or National Adaptation Plans.

While the climate change issue presents the health sector with significant challenges, it also presents opportunities.

Countries’ Nationally-determined contributions and National Adaptation Plans can be used to advance health objectives. Properly integrated into national planning, these health objectives can also be supported by the climate finance that is to be delivered according to the commitments in the Paris Agreement. For example, half of the funding from the Green Climate Fund is to be for adaptation.

I cannot close without underlining that climate change and health issues are part of a much bigger tableau – the imperative of sustainable development. The sustainable development goals adopted last year cannot be taken piece meal. The world will not end poverty or hunger, or meet the health targets, without addressing climate change. And it will not solve the climate problem without addressing energy, and air pollution, and production and consumption patterns, and just work.

The challenges we face in building healthy, climate safe and sustainable societies are significant. But they are not insurmountable especially if the health and climate communities work together.

In the wake of the Paris Agreement, we in the climate community see the beginnings of fundamental changes in economies and societies but these need to be sustained and accelerated. I hope that today’s second global conference on health and climate will help to drive this change – this change for good.

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