IANPHI Europe Hosts Webinar on Public Health and Climate Change Challenges

Held on October 9, 2020, the IANPHI Europe webinar entitled 'Public Health and Climate Change Challenges: Mobilizing National Public Health Institutes into multi-sectoral alliances' was the first webinar of the virtual 2020 IANPHI Europe Meeting.

The webinar facilitated a high-level discussion on public health and climate change challenges between national public health institutes (NPHIs) and representatives of European and international bodies involved in tackling climate change and its effects on public health. Whilst climate change is acknowledged as a priority at UN and EU levels, its effects on public health are less widely recognized. The objective of this session was to explore how NPHIs can contribute to addressing climate change and its effects on public health through cross-sectoral alliances at national and international levels.

This session was moderated by N. Charles Hamilton, climate change, public health and communication consultant.

Introduction - Geneviève Chêne, director general of Santé publique France

Pr. Geneviève Chêne welcomed IANPHI Europe members and guests to the first virtual session of the IANPHI European Meeting, replacing the cancelled physical meeting, which was to be held at Santé publique France in Paris. In addition to responding to COVID-19, Santé publique France (SpF) is committed to fulfilling its wide-ranging functions as a public health agency, in particular supporting efforts to tackle climate change and address social and regional inequalities.

When opening the meeting, Pr. Chêne highlighted the importance of peer exchange and alignment with international initiatives. 

Defining appropriate health indicators for climate adaptation and mitigation - Dr. Sébastien Denys, director, and Dr. Mathilde Pascal, scientific project manager, Environmental and Occupational Health Department, Santé publique France 

To tackle the unprecedented speed and magnitude of environmental changes, SpF has been working since 2004 to raise awareness about the direct and indirect risks to health. For example, the Agency detailed its conceptual framework to develop health indicators. This framework aims to develop relevant local indicators, from a selection of health issues directly or indirectly influenced by climate changes. This approach would both increase the comparability of the indicators at national level and ensure indicators are constructed with local actors. These indicators could be used as a scientific basis to advocate for adaptation and mitigation for public health at multiple levels. Moreover, a framework enables NPHIs to produce a common set of national-level indicators that can be inspired by local-level issues.

SpF also develops studies to integrate health in climate adaptation policies. For instance, SpF’s recent publication, in partnership with Paris' regional urban and environment agency, highlights the opportunities offered by vegetation and natural soils to reduce mortality during heat waves in cities.

Download Dr. Denys and Dr. Pascal's presentation

Informing citizens and authorities of the links between climate changes and public health - Prof. Guus Velders, Senior Scientist for air quality and climate change, Dutch Institute for Public Health and Environment 

Guus Velders of the Dutch Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) introduced the wide-ranging health, social, economic, and ecosystemic impacts of climate change. RIVM has aligned itself with the Dutch National Climate Agreement and Climate Adaptation Strategy, which gathers over 100 parties to reduce CO2 emissions by 49% by 2030. In this context, RIVM has defined four main goals: (i) translating knowledge to citizens and governments, including the Public Health Foresight studies; (ii) tools such as a water quality check; (iii) research on implementation solutions, for example the RIVM National Adaptation Strategy; and (iv) (inter)national collaboration.

Whilst there are challenges in the availability of quantitative data, NPHIs have an important role in providing national and local authorities with information on the impacts of climate changes on public health (see an example). One way to advocate for the importance of health issues in climate change would be to further the collaboration between public health and environmental agencies. 

Download Prof. Velders' presentation

Acting now, together, to address climate changes - Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organisation

Dr. Maria Neira of the World Health Organisation (WHO) called for multi-level collaboration in order to face the urgency of the global situation and take actions now. She presented "WHO’s 2020 Manifesto for a healthy recovery from COVID-19”, its six main areas, as well as the associated actions. This manifesto calls on diverse stakeholders to: 1) recover our relationship with nature, 2) provide access to the basic services, 3) advocate for a healthy energetic transition, 4) develop a more sustainable food production and consumption management, 5) create new urban spaces, 6) stop paying subsidies to fossil fuels.

Dr. Neira also underlined the important role that NPHIs must play in achieving this manifesto, starting by actively bringing their data to the attention of policy makers and other stakeholders to show the health impacts of climate change. Looking forward, NPHIs could speak with a collective voice in the run up to the “Race to Zero Climate and Health Dialogue” on November 9, 2020, which will pave the way to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in 2021 (see more below).

Collaborating widely at the European level: Dr. Catherine Ganzleben, Head of Air Pollution, Environment and Health Group of the European Environment Agency

Dr. Catherine Ganzleben presented the European Environment Agency (EEA) as an independent EU agency providing knowledge to the public and policy makers from its 32 member countries and six cooperating countries. The serious environmental impacts of climate change were explored, from temperature change to rainfall. Moreover, these issues were linked to serious health, economic and social costs (see EEA report). For instance, social inequalities and vulnerabilities often define one’s ability to adapt to climate change. Moreover, environmental impacts lead to changes in the circulation of infectious and vector-borne diseases (monitored by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control). For examples of measures being carried out in Europe to adapt to climate change, the EEA has collected a number of case studies.

In addition, the numerous sources and causes of greenhouse gas emissions were explored, including meat consumption. The European Green Deal provides an opportunity for NPHIs to align themselves with Europe’s climate-neutral ambitions in a number of sectors.

Download Dr. Ganzleben's presentation

Next steps

At the initiative of Dr. Maria Neira of WHO, IANPHI invited its members and partners to join a working group dedicated to sharing experiences around public health and climate changes and to developing common initiatives in the run up to COP26. Those interested can contact the Secretariat at secretariat@ianphi.org.

Speaking from the Bahamas, Charles Hamilton concluded that the actions we take across the world, including in Europe, have an important impact on populations all around the world. 

Watch the webinar

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