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It’s the pointy end of COP26. Where are we at?

While the Australian Government remains a pariah at COP26, the global health sector’s leadership is impressive, amplifying the voices of tens of millions of health workers pressing for effective climate action, reports Remy Shergill, from the Climate and Health Alliance.

(And read her previous report from the first week of COP26).


Remy Shergill writes:

The health sector has shown amazing leadership on climate change at COP26, the first such COP where health has been an official conference priority. Health sectors from many different countries have been able to come together and advocate collectively for humanity’s health.

An open letter signed by 600 organisations, representing 46 million nurses, doctors and health professionals worldwide, was formally handed over to the presidencies of COP26 (UK) and COP27 (Egypt) on Tuesday 9 November.

The Healthy Climate Prescription Letter warns that the climate crisis is the single biggest health threat facing humanity and calls on world leaders to deliver on climate action.

At the handover, Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the World Health Organization (WHO), said:

The Paris Agreement is a Public Health Treaty.

Health professionals around the world have mobilised to protect our health once again.

Climate change is the biggest health threat we have faced so far.”

L-R: Dr Jeni Miller, Executive Director of Global Climate and Health Alliance, Richard Smith, President of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, Gillian Keegan, UK Minister of State for Care and Mental Health, and Diarmid-Campbell-Lendrum, WHO Climate Change and Health Lead.

During the Climate Action for Health event, WHO and the Global Climate and Health Alliance also premiered a video, ‘#ClimatePrescription’, featuring medical and health professionals from around the world calling for climate action.

Opportunities lost, and found

As Croakey reported this week, more than 50 countries have committed to pursuing sustainable, low-carbon, resilient healthcare systems.

Unfortunately, Australia isn’t one of them, a lost opportunity according to the Climate and Health Alliance.

“There’s a lot going on in Australia to move in that direction, but it’s largely voluntary, it’s not supported by policy,” said Fiona Armstrong, Executive Director of the Climate and Health Alliance. “There’s very much a growing appetite amongst state and territory governments to take action.”

The countries which have made a commitment to develop a sustainable, low-carbon health system cover over a third (35 percent) of healthcare emissions (705.4 million metric tons).

Of these, 14 countries have the ambition to get to net zero on or before 2050.

By implementing these commitments, they will help put the entire sector on a trajectory toward zero emissions and transform how healthcare is delivered in the 21st century.

Australian health sector speaking up

The Australian health sector was active from afar in urging the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to advocate for recognition of the threat to health from climate change to be included in the final document from COP26.

This wording was drafted by an international cohort of health and medical experts and groups, coordinated by the Global Climate and Health Alliance. Their full proposal can be seen here.

The recommended health-related additions are as follows:

The Conference of the Parties […]

Recognises that climate change poses an existential threat to humanity and threatens the right to health, while mitigation measures produce important health co-benefits including cleaner air and water, healthier food, enhanced food security, and increased physical activity; and notes the socio-economic opportunities of a healthy, sustainable and equitable recovery from Covid-19 including enabling a just transition to a clean energy economy, and building climate-resilient health systems.

OR:

Recognises that climate change threatens global health, while mitigation measures produce health co-benefits; and notes the socio-economic opportunities of a healthy, sustainable and equitable recovery from Covid-19.

The Climate and Health Alliance, and several of its member organisations have advocated to DFAT and our Environment Ambassador Jamie Isbister to include this. Similar advocacy is being carried out by health groups around the world.

What does the draft text say?

Here’s the draft text. We don’t know how weak or strong the final text will be. COP experts will tell you that the conferences often run over into the weekend, so we don’t know for sure when the final text will be released.

An early assessment: The text around mitigation and ambition is much stronger than the text around adaptation and climate justice. Both strong mitigation and adaptation measures are needed for good health outcomes.

Mitigation: Cutting emissions

Maintaining the 1.5 degree target is emphasised heavily in this text. Additionally, the text explicitly mentions that emissions must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 to meet this, and how far off we are: at this stage, our emissions are 13.7 percent higher than 2010 levels.

In paragraph 29, the text makes clear that countries who have not strengthened their 2030 targets (like Australia) are expected to do so before COP27 next year (more on this below). If this appears in the final text, you can bet this will be an Australian election point.

Additionally, countries will be expected to outline annual strategies to deliver their net zero by 2050 target, and each annual strategy needs to be commensurate with a 1.5 degree pathway. That increases pressure to take action this decade, rather than in the 2040s for example.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the draft text mentions fossil fuels for the first time, and singles out coal. The language in the text refers to the need to phase out coal, end fossil fuel subsidies, and redirect those funds to renewables.

All of these points are relevant for the Australian Government.

Adaptation and climate justice

It’s well documented that climate change has been driven by developed countries and is affecting developing countries first and worst. Several parts of the Paris Agreement try to address this problem, including supporting adaptation to the impacts of catastrophic extreme weather, providing climate finance, investing in nature-based solutions and more.

As opposed to the language around mitigation, which involves timelines and targets, this section of the text is weaker and doesn’t meet the needs of poorer countries.

Powershift Africa Director, Mohamed Adow said: “This is currently a very lopsided document. There’s lots on accelerating emissions reductions… But on the key demands of vulnerable countries there is very little. On helping these countries adapt to climate impacts and deal with permanent loss and damage it is very fuzzy and vague. The fact that the deadline for the long promised $100bn of climate finance from rich countries has been missed doesn’t even get mentioned.”

“Where is the support to help people forced to pick up the pieces after climate disasters?” said Teresa Anderson, Climate Policy Coordinator, Action Aid International, on the latest text.

The weakness of this language suggests that this COP will not address the concept of “climate justice”.

Climate justice may mean different things to different groups, but essentially recognises that those who are worst affected by climate change are also those least able to protect themselves, and were not responsible for causing it, nor benefitted from the societal development which caused it. Solutions centred on climate justice should address systemic injustices in order to ensure that those who have been historically marginalised will not continue to be in a new sustainable, renewable world.

Some nations are taking action into their own hands, in this big certainty vacuum.

Pacific Island nation Tuvalu has launched its Future Now Project (Te Ataeao Nei Project in Tuvaluan), which is proactively addressing the country’s worst-case scenario — its disappearance under rising seas — with three initiatives:

  • Promoting the ethical and moral principles reflected in Tuvaluan cultural values so that these values will influence other nations and peoples;
  • Securing international recognition of Tuvalu’s Statehood as permanent and its existing maritime boundaries as fixed even with sea level rise;
  • Digitize all Government administrative services and establish digital archives of Tuvalu’s history and cultural practices to create a digital nation.

While the project highlights the intention to embody Tuvaluan cultural values (for example, being a good neighbour, shared responsibility, communal living) to influence other nations, two of its initiatives address the possibility that the world may not “get its act together to solve the thorny issues of statehood and territory under climate change.”

Still a pariah

Yesterday it was reported that Australian negotiators are trying to water down one of the stronger outcomes in the draft text, paragraph 29.

“29. Urges Parties that have not yet submitted new or updated nationally determined contributions in accordance with decision 1/CP.21, paragraphs 23-24 to do so as soon as possible in advance of the twenty-seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (November 2022)”

For reference, paragraph 23 and 24 recognise that all Parties must take “meaningful and effective action” to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, and that to do so all Parties must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

So in essence, paragraph 29 is urging all Parties who haven’t submitted 2030 targets aligned with paragraphs 23 and 24 to do so before COP27 in November 2022.

Australian negotiators confirmed to Australian civil society representatives in Glasgow that they “are looking very closely” at this paragraph (and we will wait to see whether it is included in the final text).

This is another blow to any hope of Australian climate leadership, at what has been a fairly appalling display in Glasgow.

The Climate Action Network has awarded Australia ‘Gold’ in their Fossil of the Day awards on November 10, for all their “hard work and effort” to:

  • Fail to deliver meaningful progress, including no new ambitious emissions reduction targets or policies to phase out fossil fuels, and refusing to sign the Global Methane Pledge; and
  • Actively drive climate change, by approving three new coal projects in recent months, opening ten new areas for offshore petroleum exploration, and promoting Santos in their COP Pavilion.

When do we get the final outcome?

For now, we wait with bated breath for the final text to emerge from the negotiations.

As with all highly complex international negotiations, it will take a while to sift through the content and decipher the good, the bad and the ugly. The final text is likely to emerge before the end of this weekend.

Next week, our #HealthyCOP26 series will feature insights and stories from diverse voices from COP26 on their highlights and lowlights, how health influenced the negotiations, and how the health sector will continue to push for global climate action.


This article is published as part of the #HealthyCOP26 series, produced in partnership between Croakey Health Media and the Climate and Health Alliance.

 

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