A mask seller in an Indian food market in Kerala during a recent zoonotic disease outbreak. COP28 is the first climate negotiation where the majority of the countries have agreed to declare their commitment to prevent the worsening health impacts of climate change. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
  • by Stella Paul (dubai)
  • Inter Press Service

“After 14 years of working for this (inclusion of One Health in the climate change negotiations), it is finally there in the health declaration, so we are very happy. It is mentioned clearly—says what it is and uses the exact term; there is no ambiguity,” says Dent, who is the Global Director of External Engagement at World Animal Protection, one of the 14 organizations that issued a statement of endorsement soon after the health declaration was issued in Dubai on December 3.

The Health Declaration

The three-page document called “COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health” says that the parties will facilitate collaboration on human, animal, environmental, and climate health challenges. Implementing a One Health approach would include addressing environmental determinants of health, stepping up research on the connections between environmental and climatic factors and antimicrobial resistance, and finding zoonotic spillovers early to stop, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics.

While the declaration is not legally binding, it serves as a voluntary call to action outside the formal process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). So far, 124 countries have signed it.

According to Dent, this health declaration should be viewed alongside the “Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action,” another landmark declaration made at COP28 on December 4. This is also the first-ever leaders’ level declaration on food systems and climate at a COP, and it highlights the unique and crucial role that food systems play in either driving or mitigating climate change—as well as adapting to its impacts.

Put together, the two declarations widen the scope of addressing and tackling environmental, human, and animal health, all of which are interrelated.  “Even a couple of years ago, there was nothing on One Health or climate and health connections in the COPs. And now we have not one but two declarations on this. So, this is definitely a great start,” Dent says.

Perspective of a Developing Oil-Producing Country

Nathalie Beasnel is a surgical nurse from Chad, a nation in sub-Saharan Africa with alarmingly high levels of air pollution due to industrial emissions, such as the production of oil and gas.

According to Energy Intelligence – a global energy information company, in the first quarter of 2023, Chad’s crude oil production was 141,700 barrels per day. Of this, the country only uses a marginal portion—slightly over 2 thousand barrels; the rest is used by consumers outside of the country. The total revenue from the oil is estimated to be over USD 1.13 billion.

Ironically, Chad ranks 190 out of 191 countries on the UN Human Development Index which makes it among the poorest countries in the world. 42% of the country’s population lives below the national poverty line.

In addition, air pollution has emerged as one of the biggest health crises in Chad. The current PM2.5 concentration in Chad is 4.9 times higher than the WHO 24-hour air quality guidelines, according to live data gathered by AQI.in, the global air quality monitoring tool.

Beasnel, who provides specific and basic medical supplies to hospitals in the rural areas of Senegal, Chad, and South Africa through her charity Health4Peace, receives dozens of requests every quarter from pregnant women to help them go abroad to give birth in a “clean air environment.”

Beasnel feels that the health declaration has hopes for communities facing health challenges induced by climate change and fossil fuel burning in poorer countries like Chad; they can expect some concrete action and support, especially since the announcement of a total of 1 billion USD in financing for climate and health. The billion-dollar funding comes from an array of existing and new funders, including the Green Climate Fund, Asian Development Bank, Global Fund, and Rockefeller Foundation.

“This is a portal. We know that USD 1 billion has already been raised, specifically by the health sector. Now I want to see where this 1 billion goes. For example, we have sudden floods, droughts, farm failures, and air pollution. However, we now need to see the mechanism of the flow of this fund—whether it is through leadership, whether it is through people, or whether it is through the people who are directly affected,” she says.

Coming up Next: One Health Guidelines From the Quadripartite

Last year in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, four UN agencies (quadripartite)—WHO, UNEP, FAO, and WOAH—collectively drew a Joint Plan of Action (JPA) to advocate for and support the implementation of One Health at all levels and across sectors to tackle interconnected health risks and protect the health of all species.

Since then, the quadripartite has taken several steps to advance the adoption of the One Health approach, which include, among others, a workshop on environmental determinants of health and the One Health Assembly.

At COP28, the quadripartite has developed an implementation guide to provide the countries with step-by-step guidance on how to adopt and adapt the OH JPA at the national level. Scheduled to be launched on December 10, 2023, the guideline is expected to focus on how to adopt a multidisciplinary and inclusive principle. According to Cristina Romanelli, Programme Officer & Biodiversity, Climate and Health Focal Point, World Health Organization, this is one of the most exciting developments that we can expect during the remaining days of COP28. Now that we understand what a holistic, multilayered One Health framing means, how does that apply in terms of implementation? So, what will happen on December 10 is the launch of the plan for this implementation,” Romanelli says.

Some Words of Caution

Meanwhile, One Health advocates are urging people to make note of some missions in the health declaration that could affect its successful adoption and implementation. One of these is factory farming of animals, which significantly raises the chances of trauma and sickness in animals and contributes to at least 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

“There is a powerful agriculture lobby that doesn’t allow any changes. We have to challenge this dominant lobby and their business model and expose the harm they are causing. The governments also need to take responsibility, rid away subsidies in industrial agriculture, and support protein diversification,” says Dent.

Dent cites the example of Germany, which, in November, allocated 38 million euros to support the production of alternative (plant-based) proteins.

The German government’s decision follows similar steps taken by the Netherlands, which has already invested 60 million euros to develop an ecosystem for cultivated meat and precision fermentation. Denmark (168 million euros) France (65 million euros) and the UK are other European countries that have announced investing in developing plant-based, alternative proteins.

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