Ambassador Hamamoto Speaks at WHO Conference on Health and Climate

Introductory Remarks by Ambassador Hamamoto
Round Table on Health Resilience –WHO Conference on Health and Climate
August 27, 2014

 

We applaud the World Health Organization for organizing this timely conference on a topic of such pressing concern.  We continue to support the WHO’s efforts to address climate change, working alongside fellow U.N. organizations such as the U.N. Environment Program and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

As we’ve been discussing, it is clear that climate change poses unique challenges to human health – and these are global challenges, not confined to specific countries or regions – and often the most vulnerable populations (children, the elderly, the poor) face the greatest risk.

Preparedness and prevention can do a lot to protect people from some of the impacts of climate change, and it is proven that early action provides the largest health benefits.

Which is why we were especially pleased to see that the agenda for this conference is geared toward an action agenda:  what can we do globally, regionally, and within our respective member states to tackle the complex challenges posed by climate change?

I wanted to spend just a few moments describing what the United States is doing to address the health-climate change nexus.

First, we have many research and data collection teams hard at work to better identify, understand and measure the likely impacts of climate change on human health. The Third U.S. National Climate Assessment found that public health in the United States can be – and is being —  affected by disruptions of physical, biological, and ecological systems, including disturbances originating within the United States or elsewhere.

Health effects of these disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease related to worsened air quality, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food and waterborne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.

We know that air pollution, climate change and health are inextricably linked, and this linkage is being addressed through actions recently proposed in the United States.  Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants, which will also generate massive health benefits.  For every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan, American families will see up to $7 in health benefits from reductions in air pollution like ozone and fine particles.  Realizing these health benefits today will reduce pressure on our health system tomorrow – enabling us to think and plan along longer timelines.

We are also preparing and adapting our health system for the effects of climate change.  We understand that no matter how much mitigation action we take, some effects of climate change are already with us, and will be for some time to come.  The Climate Action Plan includes an initiative from the Center for Disease Control on Climate Ready States and Cities and an initiative from the Department of Health and Human Services on Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities, which we will hear more about from my colleague Dr. Balbus (NIH) in a later session.  Meanwhile, our Department of Homeland Security has also developed a Community Resilience Toolkit.  These plans and initiatives are indicative of the comprehensive approach the United States is taking to address this important issue.

More broadly, we have also joined forces with WHO under its climate change work plan, and are eager to continue to do so, in coordination with the other agencies of the UN system, such as UNEP.  Additionally, our colleagues at NASA and NOAA have been working with WMO and their climate and hydrometeorological counterparts around the world on climate and health matters for nearly 20 years.  We are excited to see what a joint effort of WHO, UNEP, and WMO can accomplish on this complex topic.

Lastly, we’re excited to see the ways in which the WHO is leading, for example, through WHO’s invaluable 1,600-city air quality monitoring database.  We applaud the WHO for taking an increasingly active role in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, to tackle issues at the nexus of public health, climate, and air pollution.  These efforts are indispensable, as they make clear that action in multiple economic sectors to reduce short-lived climate pollutants can yield major and immediate dividends for human health and well-being.

To summarize, as you have heard, the United States is busy implementing a broad, multi-faceted approach to address the very real health impacts of climate change that are affecting communities both in the US and around the world.  And as we recognize this as a global issue which requires global solutions, we are committed to continuing to engage internationally to combat existing health threats, as well as new health threats which may arise in different forms in different parts of the world.  Thank you.

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