Society for Community Health Awareness Research and Action

National Meeting on Climate and Health - A report

Held at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
On 26th October, 2015

Conducted by PHFI, Health Care Without Harm and The Lancet Commission

Report by Dr Adithya Pradyumna (delegate from SOCHARA)

This meeting was the Indian launch event for the report of the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change. The purpose of the meeting was

  • To generate awareness about the health impacts of climate change, and
  • Discuss the multi-sectoral applicability of the Lancet Commission’s initiatives in an Indian context, set in the context of the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015

People who attended included Dr Katoch (ex-Director ICMR, and currently leading the Expert Panel on Climate Change and Health in India), two representatives of the Directorate of Health Services, one representative of WHO-SEARO, and delegates from RIS, CHAI, PHFI, IIPH-G, PGIMER, IMD and other organisations. Unfortunately the lead author of the Lancet Commission, Nick Watts, was unable to be here in person, but he sent a good video recording of his presentation.

The key highlights were of the presentation were based on the findings of the recent 2015 paper discussing policy responses to protect public health:

  • repeated emphasis on mitigation no longer being a technological or financial issue but a political one
  • a public health push for mitigation and phasing out of coal
  • funding for research on health impacts of climate change
  • emphasis for health sector to mitigate
  • wider engagement for awareness
  • Lancet Commission will monitor every two years until 2030 about progress being made towards suggestions in the paper

It was also interesting to hear about the Expert Group on Climate Change and Health, headed by ex-ICMR chief, Dr VM Katoch. This group will provide recommendations to the newly proposed “Health Mission” as part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change. This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr Srinath Reddy, which included Dr James (an economist from RIS), Dr Payden (a Bhutanese WHO-SEARO representative), and Dr Subhadra Menon (health promotion/communication expert from PHFI). Some useful and some debatable issues were raised. Dr James again talked about difficulties of scaling up renewables, about India having potentially committed more than what it can mitigate (or needs to mitigate?), and the issue of flawed measures being used to estimate “growth” such as sales of automobiles. He also added that mobilising resources from international and local sources towards mitigation and adaptation are the main concern. Dr Srinath Reddy commented about the need for better measures of growth-including public health measures, and also the barriers created by trade agreements for implementing mitigation strategies. I raised the need to learn from Germany and Denmark who have already achieved over 50% energy from renewable (in a span of just 10 years for Germany), and aiming to become 100% renewable in the next 10 years. I also discussed about the need to advocate against any trade agreement that creates any barriers for improving public health and mitigating climate change. Considering the cost of inaction is also important, which could potentially be far more than the amount necessary to take action towards mitigation and adaptation. Dr Payden mentioned about some education initiatives with the youth on climate change and that they are going to increase their work in this sphere. Dr Menon raised the issue of advocacy, increasing awareness in the general population, and the need for policy changes in mass transit. She added about the need to demystify the message of climate change. On the issue that the industry and those with vested interests have the ears of the ministries, Dr Subhadra discussed there is potential to learn from tobacco campaign (where public health professionals were facing the challenge of big corporations with vested interests). I commented on the need to engage with communities across the world already being impacted by climatic disasters and fossil fuel extraction, as they demand for health, safety and a socially just future. I also added about the Healthy Energy Initiative’s effort to raise awareness among public health students and faculty about the connections between energy, climate change and health and the fact that institutions such as AIIMS are already showing the way by working towards a reduction in carbon emissions. Prof Reddy closed with some signature humour, calling the media’s obsession with stock market figures as the key indicators of development/wellbeing as “sensexually challenged”, and the heat and cold effects of climate change as “global harming”. Finally the meeting ended with the declaration marking the support of the recommendations given by Lancet’s Commission.

Brief reflections: While the setting up of the expert group is a positive step, there is a need to follow the activities of the group, and look for opportunities to engage with it to ensure a useful output – especially to ensure that the urgency and magnitude of the impacts of climate change are adequately considered into recommendations made. Also, there is a great need for awareness and collective action by public health professionals towards adaptation and mitigation for climate change – especially indirect determinants such as on food and water, and on no-regret options such as addressing air pollution.