Rich must pay climate change health costs

Countries, mostly in the developing world, could spend between US$6 to $18 billion a year by 2030 to manage additional costs to health services as a result of climate change, according to independent research cited by a World Health Organisation (WHO) official, hence the need for rich countries responsible for global warming to help pay towards these additional health costs.

"That figure was based on a WHO assessment, which found that modest global warming since the 1970s was already causing over 150,000 excess deaths every year by 2000 - the costs and the estimates would now be higher," said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, one of the authors of a new WHO report, released on World Health Day.

The assessment was based on studies on the impact of climate-sensitive illnesses like diarrhoeal disease, which is the second leading infectious cause of childhood mortality, and accounts for a total of around 1.8 million deaths each year. "For example, rates of diarrhoeal disease in Lima, Peru, are 3–4 times higher in the summer than in the winter, increasing by 8 percent for every 1°C increase in temperature," he said. "But the 2000 assessment did not take into account the impact of climate change on water stress or displacement of people as a result of famines." The WHO has announced the launch of a new assessment.

Each year, about 800,000 people die from causes attributable to urban air pollution. The last decades of the 20th century has also seen the re-emergence
and regional spread of many existing climate-sensitive infections, such as cholera and Rift Valley fever in Africa, and dengue in Latin America and South Asia, said the WHO report. "These outbreaks can cause major economic losses. For example, a cholera outbreak in Peru in 1991 cost approximately $ 770 million, and the 1994 plague outbreak in India US$ 1.7 billion.

''The per capita mortality rate from vector-borne diseases is almost 300 times greater in developing nations than in developed regions ''

"When infectious diseases appear in new locations, where people do not have immunity and health services may not have experience in controlling or treating infections, the effects can be dramatic. When an outbreak of mosquito-borne Chikungunya disease occurred in Réunion in 2005–2006, it affected 1 in 10 of the population and decreased tourism, the island’s main economic sector," said the report.

"The burden of climate sensitive diseases is the greatest on the poorest population," said Campbell-Lendrum. For example, the per capita mortality rate from vector-borne diseases is almost 300 times greater in developing nations than in developed regions. This is because vector-borne diseases are more common in tropical climates of many developing countries, and also because of low levels of socioeconomic development and coverage of health services in these areas.

Many of the measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as shifting to cleaner energy sources, could bring important health "co-benefits" to
communities and individuals, for example through reduced air pollution, pointed out Campbell-Lendrum.

More than money

Last week climate change negotiators in Bangkok signed off on a work plan that includes all the major themes including paying for poor countries' adaptation costs essential to reach a breakthrough agreement on emissions reductions next year in Copenhagen.

"Negotiations at a conference such as in Bangkok are divorced from the reality of the impact of climate on people's health and livelihoods already unfolding in the affected countries," said Bill Hare, Climate Policy Advisor for Greenpeace International. He said he hoped the "reality of people's suffering" would filter through the process at the 2009 Copenhagen meeting.

The five-day conference was building on the Kyoto Protocol, in which 37 industrialised countries and the European Community committed to reducing emissions by an average of five percent against 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012. New scientific findings show that even if the Kyoto targets are reached, it would still not be enough to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, including water stress, agricultural changes, severe weather, urban displacement and the possibility that low-lying island nations will be completely submerged.

"This meeting accomplished as much as it could,” a UN spokesperson, who did not want to be named, said. “It’s basically a road map of a road map.”

Delegates also decided to keep the market-based mechanisms for reducing emissions in place. These include carbon trading and the Clean Development Mechanism, which provides incentives for companies to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and also supports ways to finance adaptation measures for countries most vulnerable to rising sea levels, water shortages and changing rainfall patterns.

The deal essentially sets the agenda for the meetings to follow, in June in Germany, in August in Ghana and in December in Poznan, Poland. Yet it also provided a glimpse into the fights still to come as negotiators seek to thrash out what they call one of the most complex international agreements ever.

In Bangkok, most of the delegations comprised traditional negotiating teams with no high-level representation. UN officials said they expected some tougher political decisions to be made at the end of the year at the meeting Poland, which will be attended by ministerial-level delegates. Questions over finance and technology transfer will likely not be resolved until the final meeting in Copenhagen.

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