A third year medical student who attended last year’s Copenhagen summit on climate change is helping to form an international network of students and health professionals interested in the impact of climate change on health.
Nick Watts went to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit as the representative for the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, and the Health and Environment Alliance.
He was one of the few delegates advocating the importance of health as the central framework for the UN negotiations.
He was shocked to learn that concepts of global health equity were absent from the summit’s negotiated text, he said. This was despite the recent Lancet Series on Climate Change and Health, which stated that “Climate change is the greatest global health threat of the 21st Century.”
He was part of a group of doctors and health professionals who lobbied health and environment ministers, heads of state, and UN agencies with a degree of success, with a number of nations including health in their statements and as a priority in their ongoing negotiations. In particular, Tuvalu, Macedonia, the Maldives and, to a small extent, the UK, were the most receptive, he said.
And he had a pleasant surprise when the World Health Organisation asked him to rejoin the conference – after all civil society, that is, non-governmental organisations, student organisations, lobby groups, and business and research organisations had been evicted for the high-level segment – to be part of their delegation, providing a voice for health from students around the world.
They were helped by the fact that recent studies had shown that significant co-benefits to health were associated with mitigation strategies, Mr Watts said. These ranged from a decline in respiratory disease, through to healthier diets and lifestyles.
“It’s been over 19 years since the world began its first summit on climate change, back with the creation of the UNFCCC in 1992,” he said. “In 2010, we’re only just beginning to come to terms with the devastating impact that climate change will have on human health.
“While heat stroke, increased frequency and extremity of natural disasters and the spread of vector born diseases are some of the more obvious and direct effects, there are also a number of indirect dangers. These hidden impacts include the exacerbation of already critical water stresses, famine and malnutrition, air quality degradation and violent conflict resulting from forced mass migration.”
Mr Watts said if success was to be achieved, the international health community would have to engage in the debate on climate change. “There are simple steps we can all take, ranging from decreasing our own carbon footprint and that of our hospitals and clinics through to acting as advocates on a local, national or international stage,” he said.
Mr Watts said the Faculty had kindly sponsored him in August last year to travel to the General Assembly of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations in Macedonia. “This was an amazing experience, which has done a huge amount to introduce me into the realm of public health politics and economics, a career which I am very interested in pursuing,” he said.
Anyone interested in joining the network for climate change and health can contact Mr Watts onThinkglobal@ifmsa.org