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Carol Devine

Advisor for humanitarian affairs of Doctors Without Borders

Continuing the series Sustainable Future Dialogues, a partnership between the Institute for Climate and Society (ICS) and the German Embassy in Brasilia, Brazilian and international experts met in the capital of Brazil, on September 13, 2018, to discuss perspectives regarding the effects of climate change on human health nationally and globally, as well as experiences of the integration of the theme in public policies.


The opportunities ranged from the depollution of cities, the development of more nutritious and healthy diets, emergency monitoring systems, the promotion of water, energy and food security, the resilient infrastructure in the cities, and the reduction of social inequalities to mitigate urban vulnerabilities, among others.


At the opening of the event, Georg Witschel, the German ambassador in Brazil, reinforced that climate policies are the best remedy in order to avoid implications and risks to our health. For him, the Paris Agreement is not just anagreement aboutclimate, but also one of the best global health agreements that the community of nations has decided in recent years.

"Reducing emissions and limiting climate change means saving lives, reducing hospital admissions and the significant costs for the health system and for all our society. It should be made clear that every Brazilian Real invested in climate policy signifies an investment in our health."

Georg Witschel

German Ambassador in Brazil

For Ana Toni, director of iCS, a good way to understand the effects of the increase of global temperature on health is by making an analogy with our own body. She pointed out that when we have a fever, one half or one degree of temperature makes all the difference.

"What do the two communities of health and climate have in common? Health has prevention as a pillar that guides them. In the climate community, this pillar is precaution in order to avoid that we arrive at a temperature increase of 2ºC. These two pillars are fundamental and the two communities have much to learn from each other."

Ana Toni

Executive Director of the Institute for Climate and Society


Helen Gurgel,coordinator from the Geography, Environment and Health Laboratory, and professor at UNB, emphasized the key role of the community in the acceleration of the fight against climate change. According to her, the health professionals have worked intensely hard against threats to well-being - such as tobacco, HIV/AIDS and polio. Similarly, they should be leaders in the response to the problems of the influence of climate change on human life.

"To achieve a decarbonized global economy and to guarantee the benefits to public health is no longer a technical or an economic issue, it is now political."

Helen Gurgel

Coordinator from the Geography, Environment and Health Laboratory and professor at UnB

Hans-Guido Mücke, a scientist from the Environmental Hygiene Department of the German Environmental Agency, presented studies on heatwaves in Germany and also gave an account of the experience of the implementation of the National Strategy of Adaptation to Climate Change from 2008, which is a government program implemented in Germany.

"The effects of climate change on public health include aspects as diverse as agriculture, biodiversity and finance. It concerns a transversal issue and, therefore, must rely on the cooperation of all the ministries."

Hans-Guido Mücke

Scientist from the Environmental Hygiene Department of the German Environmental Agency


Carol Devine, advisor for humanitarian affairs of Doctors Without Borders, said that, in its operations, the organization has already identified the effects of climate change on health in 70 countries where they work.

"These effects range from the impact of the scarcity of water in conflict zones, such as Syria and Iraq, to the lack of food security in places like the Sahel, in Africa, or even malaria outbreaks in several countries around the world."

Carol Devine

Advisor for humanitarian affairs of Doctors Without Borders

Children, the elderly and the poorest populations are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change on health. Tatiana Marrufo, coordinator of the Strategic Program of Health and Environment of the National Institute of Health of Mozambique, demonstrated how cases of malnutrition and hunger in the country have been exacerbated by climate change.

"In 2015, we had 150,000 people in a situation of food insecurity. By 2016, this number had jumped to 1,500,000 people, due to the climate phenomenon of El Niño, which caused extended periods of drought."

Tatiana Marrufo

 Coordinator of the Strategic Program of Health and Environment of the National Institute of Health of Mozambique

Factors such as the lack of planning and early warning, rapid population growth and poor land use act to compound the damage to health caused by climate change. Data from the World Health Organization demonstrates that 23.5% of natural disasters occur in the Americas and that these are associated with hydrological and meteorological factors - resulting in 98 million victims and a cost of US$ 679 billion.

Considering these high costs from an economic and a human point of view, for Fabio Evangelista, a future without mitigation and adaptation to climate change invalidates the health models.

"To meet the challenges of climate change we need to rethink how we live, produce, consume and work. The health area offers the best arguments and evidence to strengthen the actions of sustainable development."

Fábio Evangelista

Representative from the Pan American Health Organization in Brazil (PAHO / WHO)

Health enterprises in Brazil have already begun to integrate climate risks into their management. By means of the Healthy Hospitals Project, 100 health establishments have assumed emission reduction targets by 2020.

"A growing number of health enterprises are identifying opportunities of cost reduction and a greater operating efficiency from the measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their operations."

Neilor Guilherme

Board member of the Healthy Hospitals Project and environmental engineer from the Albert Einstein Hospital


The urgency of the integration of climate change in health planning was a consensus among the arguments developed in the presentations of national and international experts.

Rodrigo Frutuoso, technical advisor at the General Coordination of Inspection in Environmental Health of the Ministry of Health, mentioned the efforts to integrate climate into the routines of the various agencies, offices and departments that make up the structure of health governance in Brazil.

The National Plan of Adaptation to Climate Change, for example, has 24 targets - of which two are in the area of health. "Today, we have contingency plans so that the federal, state and municipal authorities are prepared to respond to emergencies," explained Rodrigo.

For Christovam Barcellos, from Fiocruz, health is a mediator between climate and society. He explained that the temperature is not the only variable that we should observe.

"Climate change should be observed together with environmental change. For example, diseases appear as a result of broader issues such as deforestation, changes in the rate of flow of rivers and extreme weather events."

Christovam Barcellos

Researcher from the National Observatory of Climateand Health at Fiocruz

Pollution is already the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world - three times more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Evangelina Vormittag, founder and director of the Institute for Health and Sustainability, warned aboutthe importance of considering the health indicators in urban planning and infrastructure decisions in the cities (mainly by the convergence of the agendas of climate, health, transport and renewable energy). 


On this theme, Alice Amorim, coordinator of the portfolio of climate policy and engagement ofthe iCS, drew attention to the fact that the infrastructure in developing countries is yet to be built in many cases. Therefore, we need to translate to society what are the negative impacts of climate change on the health of people, from what is experienced in the daily routines of each individual. The city is the place where this relationship and the effects are most evident.

"We are in time to include aspects of climate and health in the planning and investment decision of the infrastructure, but this has to be done urgently."

Alice Amorim

Coordinator of the policy portfolio of the Institute for Climate and Society

Carol Devine

Photos: Gustavo Amora



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