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October

Opening speech at the symposium on Climate Change and Health


by Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn
World Health Summit, 20.10.2014 in Berlin

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

We all know that climate change has long since become a reality: The Earth's atmosphere is heating up. Global emissions of greenhouse gases are continuing to rise. Extreme weather events – storms, floods and droughts – are occurring more and more frequently. And the impact of this is particularly hard on poorer countries.

Climate change is also having considerable impacts on health: Natural disasters and heat waves claim many lives. Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are on the increase because the mosquitoes that transmit them are spreading into new areas as temperatures rise. More people are falling ill with diarrheal diseases because there is less clean drinking water available.

In order to prevent the worst from happening, we need to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. This year's annual report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that it is possible to do this and set out how it can be done. In order to achieve this goal we need to act quickly and with determination. That is our top priority.

Germany is ready and willing to do its bit. We want to spearhead the international effort on climate action. By 2020 we want to have reduced our carbon emissions by at least 40 per cent compared to 1990 levels. By 2022 we will have completely phased out nuclear power. And by 2025 we will have increased the share of renewable energy to at least 40 per cent.

However, the only way we can limit global warming is if the international community pulls together. We have now reached the point where 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by developing and emerging economies – a share that is continuing to grow. That is why, in Copenhagen in 2009, the industrialised countries pledged to mobilise 100 billion US dollars a year from 2020 onwards, in order to support the efforts of developing countries with regard to climate action.

Germany stands by this commitment. We are already the world's second largest donor of climate finance. Over the last ten years, we have quadrupled public spending in this sector to about 1.8 billion euros. And we are willing to do even more. We were the first donors to announce that we will make a significant contribution to the new Green Climate Fund – a contribution of up to 750 million euros.

Every country must shoulder its share of the responsibility, contributing to global climate action according to its means and making binding commitments to reduce emissions. The Paris climate summit in December next year will be a crucial milestone in the battle against global warming. Ensuring the success of this summit will be a key concern of Germany's G7 presidency.
In addition to that, however, we will also need to drive forward efforts to adapt to climate change. This is necessary because even a rise in temperatures of 2 degrees will have a major impact – including on health systems.

In recent years huge progress has been made all over the world in the health sector. In 2010, deaths from malaria were down by a quarter compared to ten years earlier. Deaths from tuberculosis have been reduced by more than 40 per cent over the last 20 years. The number of new HIV infections is going down.

We are also making progress on child and maternal health. It is true that, in 2012, there were still 6.6 million deaths among the under-fives – many of them as a result of preventable or easily curable diseases – but twenty years ago there were twice that many deaths. This progress is all the more impressive when you think about how much the population has grown over the same period.

Nevertheless, the challenges we face are still enormous. It is unlikely that the targets for Millenium Development Goals 4 and 5 relating to child and maternal mortality will be achieved by 2015. That means we need to step up our efforts.

In January 2015, Germany will be hosting the replenishment conference for the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation aiming at mobilising 7.5 billion US dollars for the period 2016-2020. This will enable countries to immunise an additional 300 million children and save 5-6 million lives. During our G7 presidency, we will also address our joint efforts against antimicrobial resistances and neglected tropical diseases.

Furthermore, the German government will be pushing for an ambitious, separate health goal in the UN negotiations for the new post-2015 goals on sustainable development. We want everybody everywhere to have access to decent, comprehensive and affordable health care. That is why we are investing some 700 million euros a year in health – three times more than 10 years ago.

This is also very important in view of the impacts of climate change on health, because it is the poorest countries – those with the weakest health systems – that are the hardest hit by these impacts. Illness is on the increase and the progress that has been achieved in the health sector is in danger of being reversed.

As we continue to develop health systems we need to consider very precisely the new challenges that must be faced due to climate change. For the most part this is new territory. There is little experience available as yet.

That is why we launched a pilot project under German development cooperation a year ago, in order to get health and climate change more firmly established as a topic on the international agenda. In this pilot project we are working closely with the WHO. We are supporting the efforts being made by several countries in Africa and Asia to implement national analyses and adaptation strategies.

This symposium today is also part of the effort to improve our understanding of the impacts of climate change on health systems and take greater account of these impacts in our development cooperation. In future we must take a holistic approach to climate change and health. I am pleased that we are making a start on doing that here and now. I wish us all an interesting discussion.

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