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Climate change urgent threat to pregnant women, children

UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai from November 30

The Nepal Weekly
November 28, 2023

By Arun Ranjit

The Expo City, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ready to host the 28thsession of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that is to be kicked off on 30 November.

The conference in which Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal is also leading a Nepali delegation will come to a close on 12 December 2023.

The COP 27 Egyptian Presidency and the Incoming COP 28 Presidency are convening informal consultations to engage governments at the ministerial, Head-of-Delegation, and technical levels to lay the groundwork “to deliver a successful COP 28 that drives global transformation towards a low-emission and climate-resilient world, fosters ambitious climate action and facilitates implementation, including the related support.”

COP28is a source of concern both because of the UAE’s climate-related policies and its human rights record. In his Pre-COP opening session where 70 Ministers and over 100 country delegates presented, COP28 President Dr. Sultan Al Jaber called for unity, action and multilateralism saying the world needs to do more and seize the opportunity ofCOP28 to take action and keep 1.5 within reach.

The first Global Stock take of the implementation of the Paris Agreement will conclude at COP 28. Each stock take is a two-year process that happens every five years, with the aim of assessing the world’s collective progress towards achieving its climate goals.

The first Global Stock take takes place at the mid-point in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs, including Goal 13(climate action).

It will be preceded by a mandated workshop on the elements of the outcome of the test in October in the UAE. In the meantime, the World Economic Forum will also convene heads of state, ministers, business leaders, philanthropy and civil society to advance climate action at the 28th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP28) at the Expo City Dubai, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The forum’s focus at COP28 is to address priority action areas including industry decarbonization and net zero, energy transition, food, nature and innovative finance. The year 2023 has been marked by a series of devastating climate disasters. Wildfires, floods, heatwaves and droughts are displacing people, killing crops and livestock, and worsening air pollution.

An over-heating world is increasing the spread of deadly diseases like cholera, malaria and dengue, with dire consequences for pregnant women and children for whom these infections can be especially severe.

Pregnant women, babies and children face extreme health risks from climate catastrophes that warrant urgent attention, according to a Call for Action released by United Nations (UN) agencies ahead of the global Conference of the Parties (COP28) negotiations on climate change in Dubai. The Call to Action was released by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA at an online launch event, alongside an advocacy brief by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH). The PMNCH advocacy brief reinforces the Call to Action by outlining specific recommendations for different stakeholders for ensuring that the health needs of women, children and adolescents are better addressed in climate policies, financing, and programmes.

According to the document– Protecting maternal, newborn and child health from the impact of climate change – the effects of climate events on maternal and child health have been neglected, underreported and underestimated.  Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director General for Universal Health Coverage, Life Course at the World Health Organization (WHO) briefed that “Very few countries’ climate change response plans mention maternal or child health that poses an existential threat to all of us, but pregnant women, babies and children face some of the gravest consequences of all.”

Research shows that harm can begin even in the womb, leading to pregnancy-related complications, preterm birth, low birthweight and stillbirth.

The Call-to-Action highlights sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and action on climate finance, alongside the specific inclusion of the needs of pregnant women, babies and children within climate and disaster-related policies. The agencies also call for more research to better understand the impacts of climate change on maternal and child health.

“Climate change is a major intergenerational injustice of our times. Safeguarding the health and rights of women, children, and adolescents is non-negotiable in the face of the climate crisis,’’ said Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

COP28is an opportunity for the World Economic Forum to provide a platform for multi- stakeholders to take stock of progress, enhance partnership efforts and explore new ideas and solutions together to safeguard our global commons. “climate change and the economic downturn continue to fuel the crisis in Afghanistan, and there have been no “encouraging developments” towards getting girls back into classrooms, the UN said.

“Afghanistan remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in 2023, notwithstanding, of course, the recent devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria,” it said.

Meanwhile, the UN continues to engage with the de facto Taliban authorities in the aftermath of edicts banning girls from attending secondary school and women from working with local and international aid agencies on the ground. According to analysis focused on communities, Bangladeshis among countries most vulnerable to climate change. Extreme heat and humidity and other climate-related events appear to increase mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. While it is known that climate change can have serious repercussions for mental health, researchers say country-level data is lacking.

According to the Lancet Planetary Health report, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries that faces multiple climate-related risks, including elevated temperatures and humidity, heatwaves and natural disasters such as extreme flooding and cyclones.

Climate change is likely to be one of the foremost macroeconomic, financial, and debt policy challenges that IMF members will face over the coming decades.

According to a new study released by the World Economic Forum, Brazil will require an estimated US $200 billion (BRL 1 trillion) investment to reach its2030 climate goals that has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37% by 2025 and by 50% by 2030, based on 2005 levels, with the ultimate goal of achieving carbon neutrality.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres also said the world, particularly developing countries, is facing “a perfect storm” with growing inequalities, climate chaos, conflicts and hunger. Urging G20 nations to deliver “an ambitious, credible and just outcome” to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the UN chief said he will establish a Leaders Group to monitor the implementation of the SDG Stimulus to enable US $500 billion in additional long-term development finance.

Climate change is already harming human health and wellbeing. From illness caused by extreme climate events to the increased incidence and spread of vector-borne diseases; and the rise in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases caused by extreme heat and air pollution respectively – the impacts of climate on human health are inescapable.

Significant progress has been made in the integration of health into nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and long-term low emissions and development strategies (LT-LEDS), the main policy instruments to reduce emissions and build climate resilience as set out by the Paris Agreement.

91%of the available NDCs now include health considerations, compared to 70% of those reporting in 2019.Compared to previous rounds of national climate plans, health-inclusive and health-promoting climate targets and policies are increasingly being developed for mitigation, adaptation, means of implementation, loss and damage, and long-term sustainable development strategies. Despite this progress, there remain huge gaps in the action being taken. Ambitious action on air pollution will save lives, yet only 16% of NDCs include standalone targets, measures or policies to reduce air pollution.

Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health. Ambient(outdoor) and household air pollution together cause around seven million premature deaths each year from ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory diseases like asthma and pneumonia, which disproportionately affects children in low- and middle-income disproportionately affects up action to cut carbon emissions, countries will also see wider health benefits.

Sustainable climate finance is essential for health adaptation, mitigation, and climate-resilient development, but health remains chronically underfunded in national plans to tackle climate change. 

The ability for countries to engage in climate change adaptation and mitigation actions is highly dependent on their financial capacity, and too often the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis are those without the resources to fund climate action.

Most countries depend on international financial support for climate action. Only one in ten NDCs include domestic funding for some or all of their health actions and only one in five long-term strategies include specific health funding provisions such as taxes, levies and carbon pricing mechanisms.

To ensure an equitable and effective response to climate change, World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for multilateral climate financing mechanisms to allocate more funding to policies and initiatives that explicitly aim to protect or improve human health. WHO also said it will continue to support countries to protect health by building climate resilient health systems, reducing carbon emissions from healthcare, and tracking global progress. However, WHO is working with the COP28 Presidency to lead the first-ever day dedicated to health at COP on 3 December 2023 and the meeting of Health and Climate Ministers, underlining the urgent need to accelerate health-focused climate action at every level.