ST GEORGE’S, Grenada (PAHO/WHO) — Ministers from across the Caribbean have agreed on an action plan to ensure that the health of those living in small island developing states (SIDS) is protected and prioritized within the global climate change agenda.
The III Global Conference on Health and Climate: Special Focus on Small Island Developing States, convened jointly by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and hosted by the government of Grenada, took place on October 16 and 17 in St George’s, Grenada.
The conference, which was attended by the prime minister of Grenada, Dr Keith Mitchell, ministers of health and ministers of the environment, experts from PAHO and WHO, representatives from other UN agencies and key stakeholders from Caribbean SIDS, was convened to discuss the main climate change issues affecting the health of islands in the region.
“The effects of what is around us and how we’ve treated our own environment are being seen every day,” Mitchell said. “As leaders we have a responsibility for a future generation. We have to protect this earth for them. Placing this issue at the top of the agenda is crucial.”
This sentiment was echoed by ministers throughout the region, who highlighted that, despite being among the nations least responsible for climate change in terms of greenhouse gases, it is the small island states that are already seeing the most adverse effects.
“We all understand that climate change will continue to affect our oceans, agriculture, food production and water resources,” said PAHO director, Carissa Etienne. “But ultimately, the main impacts through all these sectors and pathways are on health.”
Many SIDS are already seeing an increase in climate-change related events, including high burdens of climate-sensitive diseases such as vector-, food-, and water-borne diseases; more frequent and severe extreme weather events; and rising sea levels.
The agreed action plan establishes a variety of recommendations in order to ensure that their specific needs are taken into consideration.
These include the development of mechanisms to ensure that SIDS are fully engaged in global-level climate change processes and agreements; that technical cooperation methods are strengthened; and that SIDS are able to access the human, technical and financial resources necessary to address the affects of climate change on health.
“Just as we bring climate change to the heart of the health sector, we must work to bring health to the heart of climate change discussions. We believe this action plan is an important step in that direction,” Etienne concluded.
Throughout the conference, ministers emphasized that, while small island developing states may have struggled to compete with the voices and resources of larger nations, their commitment to work together and collaborate on issues of health and climate change will help to ensure they are listened to at a global level.
“We have to recognize the strength in numbers,” said Nickolas Steele, minister of health and social security of Grenada. “Every single country here today must recognize that our power is in our vote at the various international fora. When we unite and we speak as one, we are extremely powerful.”
The WHO Initiative on Health in Small Island Developing States
The conference formed part of the WHO Initiative on Climate Change and Health in Small Island Developing States, which aims to provide national health authorities in SIDS with the political, technical and financial support to better understand and address the effects of climate change on health.
The conference in Grenada was the last of three, geographically dispersed meetings. The first was held in Fiji, for Pacific SIDS, and the second in Mauritius, for SIDS of the African and South-East Asian WHO regions.
The action plan developed will now form part of the WHO global action plan on climate change and health in small island developing states and a more detailed regional action plan will also be utilized as a framework for action in the Caribbean.
“The WHO director-general gave me instructions to listen. And we have listened,” said Dr Joy St John, assistant director-general at WHO. “But the most important aspect of this Caribbean climate change action plan is that ministers have owned it and will ensure that the job gets done and that no one gets left behind.”