Air Pollution, Climate Change, Oceans & Health

STATEMENT by the Secretary General of the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services, Mr. Bjørn-Inge Larsen, during the side-event on air pollution, climate change, oceans and health at the 72nd World Health Assembly. The side-event was co-organized by Norway, Fiji, Chile, Switzerland and the Maldives on May 23rd 2019.

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Director-General, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The world is in the middle of an environmental health crisis, causing 13 million premature deaths every year according to WHO. A crisis requires action, and that is what we will talk about here today. Because, only with a massive global effort, and strong leadership, can we succeed in combatting the crisis and reducing the number of deaths.

Environment and climate change issues have been dealt with by environmental organisations and fora for several decades. But I think we can admit that so far they have not been successful. The problems are growing, and so is the death toll. This is true both for air pollution, with 7 million deaths every year, and climate change, which is estimated to claim 250.000 lives annually from 2030. Therefore, it is about time that climate change and air pollution are dealt with as health issues and get to the top of the global health agenda.

Today, we will focus on the populations of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). It has been widely recognized that they are among the most vulnerable populations to climate change impacts, including sea level rise. There is very little the SIDS can do to limit these impacts, since their own emissions of greenhouse gases are very low. However, together with the young people of today, the SIDS need to demand climate action from the big emitters.

The positive news are that climate change and air pollution are interlinked and a win-win story. When you reduce emissions of air pollutants, you would normally slow climate change. And the other way around. Hence, combatting air pollution may limit sea level rise. This is also a positive story in economic terms. According to the World Bank, the global costs of air pollution is about 5.7 trillion dollars annually. Hence, with adequat action, these costs may be saved.

Norway believes that leadership by WHO and the health sector nationally and globally is needed to combat air pollution, climate change and other environmental challenges. This is in line with the Health, environment and climate change strategy that will be discussed during this Assembly. Let me be clear: Norway supports the global strategy on health, environment and climate change, as well as the plan of action on health and climate change in small island developing states.

Norway is a small country, but a big ocean state; more than two thirds of our export revenues come from coastal and ocean-based activities. Norway and SIDS have common interests in managing and protecting the oceans. Norway launched a USD 40 million program to combat marine litter and microplastics in the ocean, and will provide 7.2 million dollars in support of the initiative “Plastic Waste Free Islands Across the Globe”, focused on SIDS.

The Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, has taken the initiative to establish an international High-level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy, where Palau, Fiji and Jamaica count among the 13 members. Norway will host the Our Ocean conference in 2019, preceding Palau in 2020.

Norway has been a proud supporter of WHOs work on air pollution and climate change for several years, including the initiative to limit health impacts of climate change in small island developing states. Norway intends to continue our financial support to limit health impacts of climate change, and we encourage other countries to contribute as well.

I look forward to hearing more about the evidence on air pollution, climate change and oceans and what we can do to limit the health impacts, and save lives. Norway highly values WHO’s work in this fiels. I also look forward to hearing the voices of children and youth, and I’m sure that we agree that the time to act is now.

Thank you.