Global health leaders call for urgent fossil fuel phase-out at COP28

Johor Bahru, Malaysia – Millions of health workers from around the world urge the UNFCCC COP28 Presidency, in an open letter, to address the underlying driver of climate change and to swiftly transition away from fossil fuels. In a groundbreaking development, this year’s COP28 will see a pivotal focus on health within its official programming.

Signatories of an open letter, including prominent figures from the global medical and health community, applaud the COP28 President-Designate, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, for prioritising health as an integral aspect of climate commitments.

One of the signatories, Prof. Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Executive Director, Sunway Center for Planetary Health, Malaysia, said that “forty-six million health workers around the world, represented by organisations of institutions, have signed a letter to the COP28 presidency in Dubai,” adding that the health professionals, signatories to the letter, demand that drivers of climate change must be addressed.

“It is our addiction to fossil fuels… until and unless we address the elephant in the room that we must have a quick, rapid, just transition away from fossil fuels, we will be beating the same drum and not be able to address the underlying drivers,” Mahmood told attendance of an event organised by Health Care Without Harm, a global movement for environmentally responsible health care, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Climate Week in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, this week.

The open letter emphasises the critical link between a stable climate and global well-being, citing the Paris Agreement’s recognition of the “right to health.” However, it also underscores the alarming health impacts already faced worldwide due to climate change, urging COP28 to address the root cause: the extraction and use of fossil fuels.

“As a health professional, I urge my network of health professionals to speak up because we are the most trusted people in the world. When we speak, people actually trust us, and I think we have a responsibility to start talking about climate change, about how it impacts health,” said Mahmood.

Highlighting the urgent need for financial commitment, the letter urges a redirection of funds from fossil fuel subsidies to clean energy and health solutions. It advocates for the exclusion of fossil fuel interests from climate negotiations, drawing parallels with the tobacco industry’s exclusion from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The letter concludes with a plea for COP28 to deliver tangible climate progress, committing to a decisive phase-out of fossil fuels and substantial investment in a renewable energy transition. In an extraordinary year with health at the forefront of COP discussions, global health leaders stress the imperative of ambitious climate action to secure a safe, equitable, and just future. (nsh)

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