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WHO, health groups call for fossil fuel phase out

  • 14/09/22

The World Health Organisation (WHO) together with other health professionals groups said today that a rapid and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels was needed globally to limit temperature rises to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

Around 200 institutions are calling for governments around the world to develop and implement a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty with a view to end the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure and production, and phase out existing production.

Phasing out fossil fuels would prevent 3.6mn deaths resulting from ambient air pollution worldwide annually, according to them. "The same cannot be said for proposed false solutions, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), which do little to protect health and introduce new risks," the institutions said.

"To address existing inequity, we call on high-income countries to provide financial, technological and other support to low and middle-income countries in the move away from fossil fuels, ensuring the transition reduces poverty rather than exacerbating it," the organisations said.

The groups said burning fossil fuels threatens humanity and the planet, with air pollution causing more than 7mn premature deaths each year, while the climate crisis exacerbates other health challenges. The group also listed human health and occupational health risks associated with fossil fuel operations from production to refining and distribution and disposal of products.

"The health risks and impacts of climate change, air pollution, and proximity to extraction and processing sites are not equally distributed. They fall most heavily on communities who are least historically responsible for fossil fuel emissions, with the most limited access to the resources and power needed for redress," they said. These include populations in the global south, indigenous peoples, people facing racial and other forms of discrimination, people experiencing poverty, people with chronic health conditions and young people, the groups said.

The groups of health professionals compared the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty to the framework convention on tobacco control, saying it would be "an evidence-based international agreement to control a category of substances well-known to be harmful to human health".

The World Meteorological Organisation warned yesterday that the world is heading in the wrong direction on climate change, saying that the gap between aspirations and reality is huge while greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise to record highs.

"The ambition of emissions reduction pledges for 2030 needs to be seven times higher to be in line with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement," the WMO said, adding that the past seven years were the warmest on record.

The Glasgow climate pact agreed at last year's UN Cop 26 climate conference "requests parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances". But only a few countries have submitted updated NDCs so far, and not all new pledges show material increases in ambition.

The WMO said that global fossil CO2 emissions in 2021 returned to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 after falling by 5.4pc in 2020 as a result of lockdowns. It predicts the annual mean global near-surface temperature for each year from 2022-26 to be between 1.1°C and 1.7°C higher than pre-industrial levels in 1850-1900.

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