Posted by: davidjolson | 03/10/2010

In Creating Link Between Climate and Health, Hope Survives

This blog was written by Council Intern Analise Polsky, who is a graduate student in public health at George Washington University.

The resignation of UN Climate Chief Yvo de Boer last month symbolized the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference to many people.  Although De Boer has made no reference to Copenhagen as a reason for his departure, it is likely to have been an influential factor. The high expectations going into Copenhagen undoubtedly led to increased pressure to produce a binding accord which would restrict top polluters. However, the accord produced was not only non binding, but rather underwhelming.  A recent event at Population Action International provided valuable insight into the global health community’s take on the summit and a platform for open, honest discussion of the Copenhagen conference and the resulting accord.

Population studies, gender rights, women’s health and the environment are intrinsically linked.  As the environment changes, so too will the availability of resources like water and land.   Furthermore, population growth and constrained resources will have major implications for human health and economic development. The developing world already operates under several disadvantages; further constraints could have severe consequences. Amongst civil society members, there is not only great disappointment in the outcome of Copenhagen, but increasing concern for the well being of people in the developing world. Organizations working with sexual and reproductive health, gender rights and women’s health recognize and are troubled by the disregard for women  one of the most vulnerable groups  in political discussions of climate change and within the Copenhagen accord.

There is no language in the Copenhagen accord that talks about improving the situation for women in developing countries. Even so, it is women who will be greatly affected by climate change and who are integral to economic and social development within their communities. On the other hand, I fail to believe anyone was really convinced that  for both political and practical reasons  the two-page long accord would delve into such issues. Like many others, I would have liked to see it, but let’s be realistic.

Perhaps I am too bright-eyed and optimistic, but I do not see Copenhagen as a complete failure.  There has been a great increase in dialogue relating climate change to health and a major growth in youth advocacy. I share the frustrations of many other people in wanting more participation from key stakeholders. I also have high hopes that future key stakeholders, who will have a vested interest in improving global health and addressing climate change, will arise out of my own and future generations. In addition, I see the power behind the collaboration of organizations worldwide and the smaller more focused events, like the one I attended at PAI, in driving forward global health and addressing climate change.

While we should continue to push for greater political involvement in climate change and global health, we cannot lose sight of current efforts or future potential. It was within my short lifetime that climate change and population/health became larger parts of the political agenda. A great deal can happen in very little time, I feel we should always be thinking a generation ahead, and continue to focus on the progress which has been and can be made.

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