BreatheLife Campaign launched at Second Global Conference on Health and Climate

The conference showcases how the public health community will support the implementation of the Paris Agreement, in order to build healthier and more sustainable societies

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Segolene Royal, Environment Minister France (left) and Queen Letizia of Spain (right) at the opening of the Second Global Conference on Health and Climate

The question: ‘What is responsible for almost 7 million premature deaths annually and contributes to regional climate impacts and global warming?’ is at the heart of a joint World Health Organization (WHO) and Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) campaign called BreatheLife, announced today at the Second Global Conference on Health and Climate, in Paris. The answer? Air pollution.  

The Breathe Life campaign will raise awareness about the climate and health impacts from air pollution and how, by acting now to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon, methane and tropospheric ozone, there can be substantial and immediate gains in public health, saving millions of lives, as well as slowing near-term climate change.

Opening the conference, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said the world mustn’t only react to climate impacts but must also move to prevent them.

“Political attention and health care budgets mostly go to treating the impacts of climate change. Prevention also saves lives,” Mr Ban said. “Clean energy policies reduce air pollution. Human health and the environment both win.

“Health professionals have the power to move people to action. Together, let us realize our vision of a healthier, more sustainable future.” 

Clean energy policies reduce air pollution. Human health and the environment both win
Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary General of the United Nations

Her Majesty Queen Letizia of Spain, said we need to change the way we interact with nature.

“We need to foster an economic, social and technological progress that is in harmony with nature,” Queen Letizia said. “We are what we eat, what we drink and what we breathe.

“The challenge of public health is mostly local but its impacts are clearly global. Nobody can escape the global risk of climate change. All of us including the future generations that follow, deserve better health.”

Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister of Environment, said the impacts to climate and health was more critical for vulnerable communities and women.  

“In many countries firewood used for cooking produces toxic smoke that causes heart and lung disease,” Ms Royal said. “We must do more to prevent the impacts from such activities to the climate and health.”

Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO  Assistant Director-General, Family, Women's and Children's Health, unveiled the BreatheLife campaign saying it would build public awareness and political will to reduce the huge global death toll caused by poor air quality.

“We need to target the silent killer that is stalking many of our urban populations as a way to address climate change and as a grave public health threat,” Dr Bustreo said.

Marcelo Meno, Co-Chair of the CCAC and Chile’s Vice-Minister of Environment said most countries in the world face the challenge of climate change and air pollution.

"Climate change is deemed an intergenerational global threat, while air pollution is considered the planet's biggest environmental health threat. Both are caused by our use of fossil fuels, and countries can benefit from addressing both issues simultaneously,” Mr Mena said. “Promoting integrated approaches for air pollution and climate mitigation is an excellent opportunity to engage developing countries that do not see themselves as greenhouse gas polluters, and that face health issues associated to air pollution.” 

Urgent action to tackle air pollution in cities is needed to improve the health and well-being of over half of the world’s population. More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the WHO guideline limits, with 98% of large cities in low-income regions suffering from unhealthy air quality.

Solutions to reduce emissions include switching to soot-free busses and improving public transport, improving municipal solid waste management and eliminating open waste burning, switching to improved cookstoves and eliminating kerosene lamps.

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(Left to right) Dr Maria Neira and Dr Carlos Dora talk to Queen Letizia of Spain

The Second Global Conference on Health and Climate is organized by the WHO and the Government of France. It showcases how the public health community will support the implementation of the Paris agreement, in order to build healthier and more sustainable societies. During the two-day conference, participants will address opportunities to enhance health and climate policy development, especially through the Habitat III New Urban Agenda; identify ways to increase financial support for health and climate action; share and measure country progress to achieve health gains that countries can expect through implementing their “Nationally Determined Contributions”, or more ambitious low-carbon policies.

The conference was opened by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon; Queen Letizia of Spain; French Minister of Environment, Ségolène Royal; and Moroccan Minister of Environment, Hakima El Haite. They were joined by leaders from the United Nations, national governments and scientific organizations.

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