Climate Leadership Coalition (CLC) and the Finnish Medical Association held a Climate Change and Health -webinar on 2 February 2021. The webinar was also a kick-off event for CLC’s new Climate and Health theme group. The Finnish Medical Association belongs to a CLC member Akava – Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland.

The webinar was opened by Markku Tervahauta, Director General of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). He presented the health risks caused or accelerated by climate change, actions by which the health sector can mitigate climate change and THL’s climate projects. Tervahauta also emphasised the importance of cross-sectoral cooperation in bringing about systematic change.

Climate change creates a very difficult situation, but there is hope

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and a member of CLC’s Advisory Board, presented facts about climate change: the rise in average global temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and more common extreme weather events. The average global temperature has risen by approx. 1.2⁰C and sea levels by approx. 26 cm compared to pre-industrial times. Climate change has caused heat waves, storms and floods, which have affected and threatened some 4.5 billion people between 1998 and 2017. Many diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are climate dependent. Climate change also increases the risk of pandemics.

If global temperatures continue to rise, it will also pose a major threat to global food production. ”If we allow the planet to warm +3⁰C, the production of many crops with collapse,” Taalas stated. Despite all this, Taalas said he was hopeful. Many positive things have happened over the past year, including climate goals and the actions of major economies.

Mitigating climate change can achieve significant health benefits

Maria Neira, WHO Director for the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, stressed the need to mitigate climate change from the health perspective. She was delighted that the health benefits of mitigating climate change were mentioned in 67% of countries’ climate plans, but was disappointed to see that the health benefits had only been actually assessed in roughly 1% of the plans. Neira called on countries to assess health benefits more concretely because they can also better justify the importance of climate actions. Neira welcomed the fact that people are now more aware of the effects climate change has on health and that more than 40 countries have now launched development projects relating to climate change and health.

Simon Black, climate change economist at the International Monetary Fund, described in his presentation the risks and costs of fossil combustion and accelerating phenomena of climate change. In 2019, air pollution was the fourth largest risk factor leading to death and 87% of the global population live in conditions that exceed WHO’s recommendations for air pollution. Even in 2020, air pollution caused 3.5 times more deaths that were attributable to air pollution than Covid-19. The annual costs of accelerating phenomena caused by air pollution and climate change are approaching USD 5 trillion – more than 6% of global GDP.

Juhani Eskola, a member of CLC’s Advisory Board and former director general of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, chaired the panel discussion with Kati Myllymäki, CEO of the Finnish Medical Association, Petri Bono, Chief Medical Officer at Terveystalo, Kari Raivio, Chancellor emeritus, Sanna Lauslahti, Managing Director at Lääketeollisuus, and Ava Numminen-Päiväläinen, Occupational Health Psychologist at Terveystalo.

The panel discussion focused on whether the Finnish health sector is sufficiently aware of the risks, the actions needed and the opportunities of climate change. The overall conclusion was that the awareness and actions need to be increased and Sanna Lauslahti’s proposal that the Finnish health sector could adopt the goal of being the first in the world to become carbon neutral was supported.

In the spring, CLC will launch a Health and Climate theme group for its members.

For more information: Jouni Keronen, Chief Executive Officer, Climate Leadership Coalition, jouni.keronen@clc.fi, +358 50 453 4881 and Minttu Liuhto, Coordinator and Specialist, Climate Leadership Coalition, minttu.liuhto@clc.fi, +358 50 3811456

More information about the health impacts of climate change can be found here:

https://www.who.int/health-topics/climate-change#tab=tab_1

https://www.lancetcountdown.org/2020-report/

and about the costs here:

https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/02/Global-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Remain-Large-An-Update-Based-on-Country-Level-Estimates-46509