Problematic Lack of Consensus on Fossil Fuel Phase Out
As COP28 closes today in Dubai, the health community commended agreements in the outcome text of COP28 that some countries noted as signalling the end of the fossil fuel era. However, health groups denounced the summit’s failure to commit to a full phase-out of fossil fuels, a critically urgent step towards protecting people’s health, and criticized the failure to commit to strong targets for adaptation to build resilient systems capable of protecting vulnerable people.
“Signals alone are not enough – only real action to phase out fossil fuels will protect people’s health”, said Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, which represents 160 health professional and health civil society organizations and networks from around the world addressing climate change.
“While recognisable progress was made by COP28, the failure to find consensus on a full and fair phase-out of fossil fuels is deeply problematic when people’s health and lives hang in the balance – with the highest price being paid by communities who have contributed least to the problem”, she said.
“This year we saw superstorms, floods, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, yet with the severe toll climate impacts are already taking on people’s health and health systems, it is disheartening that world leaders still could not align themselves on the obvious and urgent need for fossil fuel phase out”, said Miller. “It is also worrying that developed countries held back from recognising their responsibility to reduce emissions first and fastest, or from making clear and measurable commitments to support the most impacted countries to adapt, with adequate finance to support implementation.”
“Compromise may be a part of international negotiations, but children’s developing lungs, brains and bodies will not know what was achieved at COP28 if it does not drive the most rapid of transitions away from fossil fuels, and support their communities to adapt to the impacts that we are already experiencing,” said Miller. “Today’s outcomes will not matter if the air remains polluted and there is no food on the table due to drought. Pregnant women whose nearest clinic was destroyed by floods will not celebrate such modest steps towards eliminating the drivers or protecting against the impacts of the climate crisis”.
“As delegates leave Dubai, developed countries must address the needs of the most vulnerable, and lead us towards equitably delivering the end of the fossil fuel era; and this leadership must put any countries hoping to cling to a fossil fuel future on notice that indeed this era is at an end”, concluded Miller.
“Fossil fuels are the leading driver of climate change and its health impacts, and inflict additional health hazards from the moment of extraction to combustion”, said Jess Beagley, Policy Lead at the Global Climate and Health Alliance. “While the COP28 final text clearly signals the impending end of the fossil fuel era, naming the need to end dependence on fossil fuels for the first time in a 30-year process, it leaves gaping and dangerous loopholes such as carbon capture and storage, ‘transitional fuels’ like fossil gas, and nuclear power, and does not clearly commit to a full, fair or funded fossil fuel phase-out.”
“Meanwhile, current language on adaptation and finance leaves vulnerable people unprotected and risks reinforcing cycles of debt, disease and death. The COP28 final text pays lip service to the human right to health and the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, but falls short of action to guarantee them”, said Beagley.
Signals of the end of the fossil fuel era were nevertheless welcomed, as a pointer in the right direction. Health organizations also noted the events and activities at COP28 that elevated a focus on people’s health for the first time at a COP, including the COP28 Climate and Health Declaration, which received sign by 142 countries (to date); the first ever official Health Day at COP; and an InterMinisterial meeting on climate and health that brought nearly 50 Ministers of Health and 110 high-level health ministerial staff to COP for the first time. With over 1900 delegates from the health sector attending COP this year, the effort to ensure that climate decisions are made with people’s lives and well-being at their heart gained momentum.
“Health is the human face of climate change and it has become clear that fossil fuel phase out is the most important treatment for the health emergency of climate change. The outcome of COP28, while not the transformational text we would have liked to see, does nevertheless indicate a turning point, calling as it does for a tripling of renewable energy capacity, and a transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems” ,said Dr. Courtney Howard, Vice Chair, Global Climate and Health Alliance.
“We must now work to organize our communities to counter the power of the fossil fuel industry that opposed more ambitious language and to ensure that the goals outlined in COP28 outcome documents are brought to life as quickly as possible where they matter most – in the real world. I am proud of the role that the health sector has played at COP28 and I look forward to harnessing our momentum, our frustration and our hope at the window that has been opened by this text to power our accelerating movement for healthy people on a healthy planet”, concluded Howard.
“In the wake of COP28 held in Dubai, a pivotal moment arose as health was integrated into its programme. Nevertheless, it stands as yet another global setback, marked by unfulfilled pledges and a lack of protection for our well-being, the future of generations to come, and the health of our planet. An urgent just transition away from fossil fuels is crucial to meet the Paris goals and for the survival of humanity, and nature. Governments must act now and stop the green and health washing”, said Dr. Lujain Al Quodmani, President, World Medical Association.
“Despite COP28 featuring several ‘first-times’, such as Health Day and the Global Stocktake, the disappointment we’re experiencing after the final outcomes of the negotiations at this COP is certainly not a ‘first-time’ feeling for us. This definitely has momentarily made us feel hopeless about the future of our health and the planet, but, not all hope is lost! As future healthcare professionals, we will continue advocating in our capacity to call for an equitable and just fossil fuel phase-out, improve the inclusion of climate change in the medical curriculum, and reach out to grassroots initiatives to increase societal awareness about the health impacts of climate change. However, with each passing second in the climate emergency we are living in, we need the same spirit of commitment from the world leaders, before it is too late”, said Salman Kahn, Liaison Officer for Public Health Issues, International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, and GCHA Board Member representing IFMSA.
“COP28 resulted in a big step forward for the climate and health agenda and two steps back for the health of people and the planet. On the one hand we witnessed growing commitment from health ministries around the world for health care decarbonization and climate resilience; this is important progress in aligning health care—which is responsible for about 5% of global emissions– with the ambition of the Paris Agreement. On the other hand, the failure of the world’s governments to adequately address fossil fuels – the root of the climate crisis—in these negotiations, keeps us on a warming trajectory that will have catastrophic consequences for our hospitals, our health systems and people’s health, undermining any progress made by the health sector. We need a fossil free future for health”, said Josh Karliner, Director of Global Partnerships, Health Care Without Harm.
“Climate change is the greatest injustice of our time across generations. The inclusion of a health day at COP28 is a remarkable step forward. However, the active decision by world leaders to exclude a rapid and just fossil fuel phase out from the decision text clearly values profit over the health of marginalized people, notably children and youth, across the globe. Continuing fossil fuel extraction paves the way for augmenting the health threats and infringements of human rights of those most marginalized”, said Amiteshwar Singh, co-founder of the Youth Climate and Health Network, and Giulia Gasparri, co-founder of the Youth Climate and Health Network and project officer at PMNCH.
“We had a great opportunity here to protect human health with strong decisions on phasing out drivers of climate change, setting ambitious, time bound targets, and streamlining means of support for adaptation. Leaving without these will only prolong suffering, loss of lives, and destruction to health care systems. Leaders here dragged their feet and, in so doing, left our climate vulnerable communities behind,” said Charles Batte, Director, Tree Adoption Uganda.
“The presence of the health sector at COP 28 demonstrates the interest in making the link between health and climate change visible; However, we need Latin American nurses to be more active and take action, taking advantage of the credibility and trust we generate in the communities”, said Doriam Camacho, Lead, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments Latin America
“Despite the outcomes of COP28 falling short of what is essential for our planet’s survival and the protection of all life, there has been a silver lining. Health professionals, who are at the forefront of caring for populations affected by climate change around the world connected and worked together at COP. This gathering allowed us to deepen our understanding of the varied and complex challenges being faced worldwide and how these are being tackled at the COP. It’s clear that much more work is needed to place health at the heart of the climate negotiations. Our commitment remains unshaken. We will continue to strive and advocate until the era of fossil fuels is behind us, ensuring a healthier, more sustainable future that we all deserve”, said Dr. Paola Rava, member, Ibero-American Confederation of Family Medicine (WONCA Iberoamericana-CIMF)
“To limit global temperature rise and its impact on peoples‘ health, it is crucial that countries rapidly transition away from and phase out all fossil fuels in a just manner – without relying on false solutions. Countries of the Global North which profited from fossil fuelled development, including the EU and Germany in particular, need to phase out fossil fuels more rapidly. They also need to provide sufficient financial support to the countries of the Global South for a just and fair phase-out of fossil fuels and for adaptation. What matters for health is not only what happens at COP, but also what happens between COPs. Ambitious action is needed to save lives”, said Sophie Gepp, German Alliance on Climate Change and Health; Centre for Planetary Health Policy, Research Associate
Problematic Lack of Consensus on Fossil Fuel Phase Out