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For the first time, health issues will be thoroughly discussed at the upcoming UN climate summit

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

The next UN climate summit will be the first to consider health issues in depth, with a meeting of global health ministers to highlight the consequences of the climate crisis for wellbeing.

Sultan Al Jaber, the president of Cop28, which will take place in Dubai this November, said on Tuesday: “We will be the first Cop to dedicate a day to health and the first to host a health and climate ministerial. And we need to broaden our definition of adaptation to enable global climate resilience, transform food systems and enhance forestry land use and water management.”

The climate crisis is likely to place further burdens on already overstretched global health systems. As well as dealing with the consequences of climate disaster such as heatwaves, floods and droughts, doctors will be faced with the increased stress on patients from rising temperatures, and higher temperatures will allow for the increased spread of disease vectors such as mosquitoes.

Ministers from around the world are gathered in Berlin this week for the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, an annual meeting on climate held by the German government. Al Jaber, addressing the conference, vowed to use Cop28 to fulfil the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement.

At Cop28, countries will for the first time formally assess progress since Paris, a process known as the global stocktake. This is likely to show that most countries are falling well short of the cuts in greenhouse gases needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, the more stringent of the two goals in the Paris agreement, in line with scientific advice.

Al Jaber told ministers at the Petersberg dialogue: “The most recent IPCC report has already made it crystal clear that we are way off track. This is a moment of clarity that we must face with total honesty. We are already seeing the impacts, from rising sea levels to failed harvests, to food, water and energy insecurity. Everyone is affected and the most vulnerable communities, across the global south, who have done the least to cause climate change, are the most affected.”

Al Jaber has faced strong criticism since taking on the Cop28 role earlier this year. He is chief executive of the UAE national oil company, Adnoc, as well as founder of the Masdar renewable energy company, and minister of advanced technology for the UAE. Adnoc is one of the world’s biggest national oil companies, and the Guardian revealed last month its plans for a massive expansion of fossil fuel production.

Many climate campaigners have criticised Al Jaber’s dual role, and the UAE’s plans to continue drilling.

Alex Scott, the climate diplomacy and geopolitics programme leader at the E3G thinktank, said Al Jaber must respond to his critics at the Petersberg dialogue. “These talks are a chance for the UAE to address the criticism they have faced, and start setting out a really ambitious agenda for what countries should be preparing to bring to Cop28,” he said. “The global stocktake is the chance to get new decisions taken by ministers on global targets, renewable energy acceleration, and the transition out of fossil fuels.”

Al Jaber also said rich countries must come to Cop28 having proven that they are delivering the $100bn a year of climate finance to poor countries that was promised more than a decade ago. He said their continued failure to do so was “holding up progress”.

The key issue of climate justice – focusing on the poor and vulnerable countries that are most at risk from the climate crisis while having done least to cause it – must be at the heart of Cop28 and preceding talks, campaigners say.

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Harjeet Singh, the head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network, said: “Unless equity and justice are put at the heart of a deal on a fossil fuel phase-out, we will not see any traction because we know who caused the problem. We know who has the biggest responsibility, and this is where rich countries have to play their role, and a just transition cannot be a conversation on the margins of climate action.”

Since the final chapter of the landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was published in March, there has been heated discussion of whether and how to use technologies that could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Petter Lyden, the international climate policy lead at the campaigning organisation Germanwatch, warned against relying on technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide as a substitute for reducing emissions. “We cannot prolong the use of fossil fuels with the use of CCS and CCU [carbon capture and storage/utilisation] and we need to make that clear. There might be a need for them in some sectors where emissions are very difficult to avoid, but I think there are some not-so-helpful initiatives floating around ahead of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue,” he said.

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