by Cristina Tirado, February 10, 2012

There are just 130 days left before the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), commonly called Rio+20, will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The zero draft of the outcome document for RIO+20, titled “The Future We Want,” will serve as the basis for negotiations between now and the Conference.

The zero draft is the result of approximately 6000 pages of input from member states and other stakeholders, as well as comments sent to the UNCSD Secretariat in December 2011.

The initial discussions on the “zero draft” of the outcome document for Rio+20 took place in New York from 25-27 January 2012.

 At the conclusion of the initial discussions, the participants noted that the goal of an ambitious and action-oriented document will require equally ambitious negotiations between the end of the January consultations and the first day of Rio+20.

The Center for Public Health and Climate Change at PHI has submitted initial comments on the zero draft through the Women’s Major Group. We consider that this could be a promising zero draft, but as it currently stands the draft does not reflect the future that we want. The draft mentions key issues such as public health, food and nutrition security, poverty, gender equity and human rights and other critical issues, but only superficially. It does not give a sense of urgency to address them. The zero draft needs to provide mechanisms for the implementation of specific actions towards sustainable development.

The future we want needs to integrate public health, food and nutrition security, gender equity and human rights as key pillars of climate resilient - sustainable development.  Climate change will impede nations’ abilities to achieve sustainable development as measured, for example, by long-term progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. The draft will benefit from proposing a more comprehensive human rights-based framework in order to address this. We want to create a climate for health, nutrition security and equity. We want progress towards universal health care and free education. We want to place climate justice, human rights and women empowerment in the center of sustainable development. We need to be more ambitious when defining the future we want.



by Hugh Montgomery, February 07, 2012

The following blog was cross-posted, with the author's permission, from European Voice


Reducing greenhouse gases is even better for public health than a European Commission study suggests.

The European Commission this week published a staff working paper that considered the impact of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by more than the EU's current target of 20% by 2020.  

It underlines something that doctors have long known – that, as well as mitigating climate change, a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions would directly help the public's health and so would help to reduce healthcare budgets across Europe. As policymakers continue to look for ways out of our current financial troubles, they should take note.

However, the even better news is that the savings highlighted by the Commission are actually a serious underestimate. The Commission considers only loss of life (‘mortality effects') associated with improving air quality – and identified savings of between €3.3 billion and €7.9bn annually. However, when consideration is given to ill-health (‘morbidity') relating to chronic bronchitis, cardiac and respiratory hospital admissions, restricted activity days due to poor air quality, consultations for asthma and upper respiratory symptoms and days of respiratory-medication use by adults and children, greater benefits are seen. A recent independent report published by Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) showed that raising the domestic target from 20% to 30% would save an additional €10bn-€30bn each year.

Furthermore, neither report considers the full range of health benefits that a low-carbon lifestyle brings. Thus, more active forms of transport – cycling and walking – reduce ‘tailpipe' pollution, while less meat consumption means less methane from cattle. Quite independently of their effects on greenhouse-gas emissions, taking more exercise and eating less meat are healthy choices, reducing rates of Alzheimer's disease, depression, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes and various cancers, as well as rates of heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke. A detailed analysis in the Lancet, a British medical journal, in 2009 provided detailed data on this issue.

It is one thing to consider the pan-European savings, but how would these numbers from the HEAL/HCWH report translate at the level of member states? The biggest winners would be Germany, with benefits of up to €8bn per year from 2020, and Poland, with up to €4bn annually. There would also be very sizable benefits for France (€3.5bn) and Italy (€3.4bn). Good news in such gloomy economic times.

So what will the Commission and member state governments do about it? The short answer is ‘not enough'.

There is far too much talk of ‘costs' when these in fact represent ‘investments' – investments that, when made smartly, would yield a substantial health-economic dividend. No one knows better than a doctor that preventative public-health intervention is preferable to treatment once a disease has taken hold.

The benefits to health and budgets from more ambitious emissions reductions are clear, but we must not forget that these come in addition to a reduction in the health risks posed by climate change itself.

Knowing that they will be on the frontline of climate change, doctors and medical groups are becoming increasingly vocal in arguing that the health implications of climate change should be considered.

At the UN-sponsored climate talks in Durban late last year, medical groups issued a ‘health-sector call to action' arguing for “ that reduce the local health impacts of fossil fuels; solutions that foster clean energy and social justice; solutions that save lives and money while protecting public health from climate change”. That has since been endorsed by doctors, nurses, medical students and public-health federations across the globe.

European policymakers know what is good for them – their own documents acknowledge this.

They have written their own prescription. They should now take their own medicine.

Hugh Montgomery is a professor at University College London, a co-founder of Climate and Health Council, UK and a member of the European health NGO delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


by Neil Maizlish, PhD, February 03, 2012

The following blog is a summary of the technical report recently released by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). The full report can be found here.


Climate change linked to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is the preeminent public health threat of the 21st century. California is the 12th largest GHG emitter in the world, and emissions from automobiles account for 30% of its GHGs. Strategies to reduce automobile-related GHG include low carbon driving (e.g. electric cars and biofuels) and reducing vehicle miles traveled. Walking and bicycling alone or in combination with public transit (active transport) can substitute for short car trips and provide physical activity, which is known to reduce the risks of chronic diseases and obesity.  Both low carbon driving and active transport also reduce air pollution from cars. Thus, both GHG-reducing strategies generate benefits to health, or what we call, co-benefits.


The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Bay Area transportation and air quality organizations teamed up with researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who developed a model that helps answer the question: "How big are the health benefits or harms of active transport or low carbon driving?"  This model was applied to the health and travel patterns of Bay Area residents. The model used statistical data on deaths,  illness, injury and disability for major health conditions strongly linked to physical activity, traffic injuries, and air pollution. The researchers considered several travel scenarios that by 2035 would increase the daily walking and bicycling of an average Bay Area resident, as well as increase the share of electric cars and alternative fuels. 


At high levels of active transport, the model predicted annually 13% fewer premature deaths and 15% fewer years of life lost for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and 5% reductions in several other chronic diseases. After accounting for a 19% increase in the disease burden from traffic injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists, the Bay Area would still experience 2,236 fewer deaths and 22,807 years of life gained per year. By reducing air pollution, low carbon driving yielded 22 fewer deaths and a gain of 232 life years from heart and respiratory disease. Increased physical activity accounted for almost all of the potential health co-benefits. Low carbon driving was estimated to reduce GHG emissions from 9% to 33.5%.


Reducing risks from chronic disease of the magnitude suggested by this research would rank among the most notable public health achievements in the modern era. Increasing active transport and low carbon driving could reduce the estimated $34 billion annual cost in California from cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases, and help achieve the U.S. Surgeon General's recommendation on physical activity. Measures to enhance the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists will facilitate the adoption of active transport. Together, the ambitious scenarios of active transport and low carbon driving could put California on track to meets its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while making major improvements to public health. 


[1]  Maizlish NA, Woodcock JD, Co S, Ostro B, Fairley D, Fanai A. Health Co-Benefits and Transportation-Related Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Bay Area - Technical Report. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Public Health; Available at: Documents/ITHIM_Technical_Report11-21-11.pdf. November 21, 2011.


by Cristina Tirado, January 19, 2012

The Center for Public Health and Climate Change at the Public Health Institute (PHI) congratulates the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for its new Climate Change and Development Strategy. 

The goal of the Climate Change and Development Strategy is to enable countries to accelerate their transition to climate resilient, low-emission and sustainable economic development.  The strategy presents the strategic objectives that USAID will pursue to accomplish this, provides guiding principles to inform climate change programs, and presents a roadmap for implementation that highlights the critical steps needed for integration.

The strategy’s foreword highlights that increased incidence of flooding and drought, saltwater intrusion into drinking water sources, and the migration of disease vectors into new areas will affect public health by undermining access to clean water and sanitation, undercutting nutritional gains, and changing disease distribution patterns and prevalence.

Under the strategic objective of increasing resilience of people, places, and livelihoods through investments in adaptation, USAID commits to helping countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. Specifically, USAID will help these countries address challenges in areas such as basic health and water services, agricultural systems, urban planning, and natural resources management, among others.

Some of the strategy’s guiding principles, which could indirectly contribute to achieving health objectives, refer to the importance of: i) strengthening civil society and engaging a full range of stakeholders, ii) responding to partner country priorities and needs, iii) making choices to minimize impacts while maximizing development benefits, iv) promoting conflict sensitive programming, v) using gender-sensitive approaches and engaging youth, and vi) valuing ecosystem services. 

The new strategy reflects USAID’s serious policy commitment to place climate change at the center of its development agenda and its willingness to integrate a focus on climate change across USAID’s development portfolio. The strategy highlights opportunities for improved integration in key areas such as food security, health, water and sanitation, human rights, disaster risk reduction, and biodiversity. It also recognizes the importance of joint adaptation and mitigation efforts.

The Center for Public Health and Climate Change at PHI has been educating and advocating around the importance of addressing climate change’s impact on health, food and nutrition security, and gender equity in an integrated way. We welcome this new strategy.  It is a critical step towards climate resilient development and sends a clear message to the world about the Obama Administration’s commitment to invest in our future today.

by Cristina Tirado, December 21, 2011

California Governor Jerry Brown emphasized that we must make the investment required to address the challenges of climate change, at his December 15th conference in San Francisco on “Extreme Climate Risk and California’s Future.” Joined by climate change leaders and leaders from various other sectors including health, Governor Brown went on to say that the
longer it take us to reduce emissions, the higher the costs of
 adaptation and mitigation will be.

The conference focused on the
 risks of unpredictable and extreme weather events caused by climate change and on how our communities can prepare and adapt. It built on the 
findings of the special
 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. Conference speakers included Nobel Prize winner and IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri.

Chairman Pachauri stressed that we will face 
more heat waves and other extreme weather events. He spoke about the unquantifiable loss of ecosystem services, lost lives, and loss
 of cultural heritage due to climate change. He highlighted the importance of looking for co-benefits as we grapple with the climate change challenge.

Among other issues, the conference addressed climate change 
and health at the state and national levels. Dr. Mark Keim, senior science adviser 
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, focused on disaster risk reduction and the need to invest in climate adaptation. Dr. Edward 
Moreno, director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health, stressed the need to support
 the poorest communities in California.

Kudos to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) (particularly Linda Rudolph and Kathy
Durbin) for making sure that health was on the conference agenda. CPHD invited health related groups including PHI's
 Center for Public Health and Climate Change to be part of this multi-stakeholder, intersectoral event. 

Closing the conference, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who signed into law California's landmark
 greenhouse gas-reduction legislation when he was governor -- made the link between
 climate change and health as well as national security and the economy. "If you go
 green,” he said, “the economy goes up.”

Read coverage of the conference from the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News.


by Cristina Tirado, December 13, 2011



L-R: Todd Stern, Christiana Figures and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

At the close of the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban (COP17), government delegates from around the world agreed to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change known as the “Durban Platform,” with implementation to begin as soon as possible but no later than 2015. Work on this future agreement will begin immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

Leaders also agreed on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, to begin January 1, 2013. 35 industrialized countries that are Parties to this second period will turn their economy-wide targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives and submit them for review by May 1, 2012.  The Durban agreement includes the launch of the Green Climate Fund as well as the establishment of an Adaptation Committee and a Technology Mechanism, which are to become fully operational in 2012.

At the conclusion of the conference, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres stated, "While it is clear that these deadlines must be met, countries, citizens and businesses who have been behind the rising global wave of climate action can now push ahead confidently, knowing that Durban has lit up a broader highway to a low-emission, climate resilient future.”

The decision to move toward a unified system, with all countries having some form of legal commitments, offers an opportunity for the US to play a more participatory and constructive role in the future.

However, the climate deal in Durban is not ambitious enough to prevent the severe impacts of climate change on health, nutrition security, and human well being. The objective of keeping the rise in global average temperatures below 2ºC would be only achievable if there is an immediate and drastic reduction of emissions; currently, a 3-4ºC rise appears to be the most likely outcome. This will have a significant negative impact on health and nutrition security around the world.  We need to act.

PHI’s Center for Public Health and Climate Change actively participated at the COP17, providing background papers, organizing events and raising awareness of the urgency to ensure that health, nutrition security, gender and risk reduction issues are properly addressed in the climate negotiations.

The Center partnered with  the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN) and Action Against Hunger (ACF) to co-sponsor a high level event, “Nutrition and Climate Change: Making the Connection to Enhance Livelihood Resilience, Health and Women's Empowerment,” where we launched the paper, "Enhancing women's leadership to address the challenges of climate change on nutrition security and health" (produced by PHI, WFP, UNSCN and ACF). This paper was widely distributed at the COP17 including to the UNFCCC executive secretary Figueres; the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra Pachauri; and the president of the COP17 Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

The Center also contributed to the panel on co-benefits at the first global Climate and Health Summit, at which 30 leading health NGOs and organizations from around the world including PHI co-signed and released a Declaration and a Global Call to Action calling for “bold and substantive action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect and promote public health.” Read more about the Summit. 

In addition, the Center participated at the WEDO/CARE event “Addressing the gender dimension of vulnerability: An adaptation framework that works for everyone,” contributing to a round table discussion on the complexities of health and nutrition, and was interviewed by CC TV as part of COP17’s Gender Day.

A PHI statement released at the start of COP17 urged nations to collaborate and to give greater attention to health in the COP17 negotiations.  Read more about the Center’s activities in Durban..

While the Durban climate conference has avoided total failure and faster catastrophic destruction of the planet, the decisions adopted there fall well short of what is needed to protect human health and the most vulnerable communities at home and worldwide. Now it is up to us to work together across sectors to promote the co-benefits for climate, health and equity of sustainable development, sustainable production, sustainable consumption and waste reduction. 

Education, global solidarity, and an embrace of our responsibility as citizens of the world are the only ways to create a climate for health.