A Sting Exclusive: “Climate change-the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, yet overlooked in climate negotiations?” IFMSA wonders from COP21 in Paris

Line Damsgaard, Denmark, and Benedetta Rossi, Italy

From left to right, Line Damsgaard from Denmark and Benedetta Rossi from Italy are medical students-members of IFMSA

This article was exclusively co-authored for the Sting by Line Damsgaard, Denmark and Benedetta Rossi, Italy, medical students present at the olympics of climate justice – the 21st Conference of the Parties, COP21.

Leading medical journal, The Lancet, has named climate change the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. All the while this cross cutting issue does not receive much attention. IFMSA has set out on a mission to inform negotiators, press, fellow youth representatives, and everyone else who will listen, how we will experience the link between health and climate change as future doctors. We will see many more heatwaves like the one that hit Europe in 2003, causing 70.000 deaths. We will see an increase in waterborne diseases due to floods, causing overflow of sewage systems. We will see mental health problems when people flee their home-countries due to extreme weather events. We might even see Malaria cases in Europe.

Talking about climate change and health does not have to be entirely negative, though. The Lancet also deemed that tackling climate change is the greatest opportunity for global health in the 21st century. Clean and renewable energy can drastically reduce the number of deaths due to air pollution. A switch to active transportation, like biking to work instead of driving, can promote healthy lifestyles and decrease cases of heart disease and diabetes.

Our work here, as young climate and health activists, has two main purposes; to educate on the link between climate change and health through actions, side events, webinars and articles, and to try and influence the negotiations, using health impacts to create a narrative, to be able to push for an ambitious long term goal of the agreement. We also advocate with countries, urging them to include health in the agreement. This process, apparently simple and easy, is actually a complex mechanism that involves many different actors, working with other Non-Governmental Organizations, such as the Health and Environment Alliance, World Medical Association, Global Climate Health Alliance; the WHO; the press and of course countries, known here as Parties. Before Conference of Parties (COP), we analyzed all the countries’ profiles and commitments, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s), to better understand which countries have an interest in health, trying to target these countries first. After three days of negotiations, things got heated as almost all references to health were removed from the draft agreement – this is when our diplomatic plans turned into activism, switching from emails to a “waiting-by-the-front-door-to-casually-bump-into-someone”-strategy. We have tried to reach as many countries as possible, including the countries of the EU, which we as the Europeans of the delegation were in charge of. Influencing them is hard work though, as much of the negotiating is done on their behalf by the EU negotiators.
As new drafts see the light of day we keep our fingers crossed for health to be included – however, this is not the breaking point for us. Most of all, we hope to see an ambitious agreement, and we will continue to advocate for countries to implement the agreement in a way that promotes good health for all.

About the authors

IFMSA logoThis article was exclusively written for the Sting by Line Damsgaard, Denmark, and Benedetta Rossi, Italy, both medical students present at the olympics of climate justice – the 21st Conference of the Parties, COP21. The tides are high and, coming in to the end phase of negotiations, everyone is fighting hard for their interests to be implemented in the agreement. They are there as medical students, representing the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), to highlight the links between climate change and health.


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  1. […] also continued to inform and educate people on #climatehealth, publishing an article in the European Sting and taking part to webinar: Line and Sam participated in a webinar Ruta del Clima on climate change […]

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