Experts warn of increasing health risks linked to climate and environmental change

Cai Wenjia

18th May 2024 – (Nanning) Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, hosted an international symposium on Saturday where experts emphasised the escalating health risks associated with climate and environmental change. The Symposium on Environment and General Health & Livable Health and Longevity brought together approximately 300 experts and government officials from around the world to discuss the imperative of jointly improving the environment and health for green and low-carbon development.

The attendees acknowledged the growing interconnectedness between climate change, ecological environment, and disease prevention and control. They highlighted the elevated risks of cardiovascular diseases due to more frequent heatwaves, increased incidence of hypertension and heart diseases caused by dust storms, and notably higher rates of respiratory system diseases resulting from air pollution.

Makiko Yashiro, the programme officer for Ecosystem Management Sub-programme at UN Environment’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, emphasized the correlation between human and planetary health, stating, “There is growing recognition of the connection between the health of people and health of our planet. Declines in nature have contributed significantly to the crossover of diseases from wildlife to people, or from wildlife to domesticated livestock. There is an urgent need to scale up efforts to stop destroying nature in order to prevent future pandemics like COVID-19.”

Cai Wenjia, a professor from the Department of Earth System Science at Tsinghua University, pointed out that climate change is directly or indirectly impacting public health through various channels, and the threat is continuously expanding. “All sectors and industries need to work together on climate and health issues,” she urged.

The symposium participants commended China’s efforts in environmental protection and pollution control. Erik Solheim, former under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of the UN Environment Programme, praised China’s transformation from a follower to a global leader in international green development, citing the nation’s commitment to the “beautiful nature” concept.

Xiao Xuezhi, chief scientist with the Foreign Environmental Cooperation Center under China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, highlighted China’s proactive promotion of green alternatives, including the implementation of policies, laws, and standards to reduce emissions of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). China has also phased out the use of 29 types of POPs comprehensively.

Furthermore, Xiao emphasized China’s commitment to fulfilling the Stockholm Convention on POPs, enhancing governance of new pollutants, expediting legislation on the management of toxic and hazardous chemicals, establishing a robust system for the governance of new pollutants, and proactively monitoring potential toxic and harmful substances to mitigate risks.