G20 on Climate Change and Health Hazards

Climate change is a critical global issue that has become a threat multiplier and intensifies disasters. The effects of climate change are numerous, and they range from extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods, cyclones, and hurricanes to food and water scarcity, rising sea levels, and loss of biodiversity. These consequences not only affect the environment but also pose a significant health hazard to humans.

Climate change exacerbates existing health risks, and its effects are felt most severely by vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Heatwaves, for instance, can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration, which can lead to death. Floods and cyclones can result in injuries, drowning, and waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid. Moreover, climate change can reduce the capacity of individuals and communities to cope with these hazards, leading to further loss of life and property.

The global average temperature has already increased by 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and global temperatures are projected to rise further. The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that human activities must reduce global emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Access to affordable and quality healthcare is a fundamental right, yet it remains a challenge for many poor and low-income households worldwide. Recently, it has been reported that medical bills for the poor population have increased by 20%, further compounding the challenges they face. The reasons for such an increase may be many, including inadequate health infrastructure, lack of investment in public health, and the economic challenges the world is currently facing. While the source of Climate Change phenomenon is known for causing air pollution and thus health problems, it is imperative to explore possibilities of phasing out fossil fuels and roll out energy transition. Air pollution is particularly concerning as it has both short- and long-term effects on human health, including respiratory disease, heart disease, and stroke.

One solution to address the air pollution problem is to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are clean, sustainable and abundant. Energy transition is an investment in public health as it not only reduces air pollution, but also mitigates climate change and its impacts. India is taking initiatives to move towards renewable energy. The government of India has set an ambitious target of installing 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030, which will not only make the country energy self-sufficient but also create job opportunities, particularly in rural areas. Furthermore, the government has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, a critical milestone in the fight against climate change.

India has recognized the importance of transitioning to renewable energy sources and is already investing heavily in this area. The country has set a target of achieving 500 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030 and is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2070. India is also expanding its public transport infrastructure and rolling out electric vehicles to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels in the transportation sector.

Another benefit of energy transition is the possibility of rolling out electric vehicles (EVs) on a large scale. The government of India has already implemented the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme to promote electric mobility. EVs produce no direct emissions, thereby significantly reducing air pollution. As battery technology improves, EVs will also become more affordable, further increasing access to clean transport.

Energy transition is the need of the hour. The cost of inaction is high, particularly for low-income households, who are most affected by climate change and air pollution. Energy transition, in combination with other public health interventions such as investment in healthcare infrastructure and social safety nets, can provide a framework for building more sustainable and equitable societies. Making energy transition an immediate priority is an investment in a healthy and sustainable future for all.

India has indeed played a significant role in extending its health services to the rest of the world, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The country has been actively engaged in vaccine diplomacy, supplying vaccines to countries in need and partnering with other nations to produce vaccines locally. India’s efforts in this regard have been widely appreciated, and they demonstrate the country’s commitment to global health.

India’s efforts to transition to renewable energy sources are commendable, and they serve as an example for other countries to follow. However, more needs to be done to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and reduce the health hazards associated with air pollution. This includes increasing investment in renewable energy research and development, providing incentives for businesses and individuals to adopt clean energy technologies, and implementing policies that promote the use of renewable energy sources.

The G20, comprising the world’s largest economies, has a critical role to play in addressing climate change. The group has significant economic resources, and its decisions can have a significant impact on global efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The G20’s agenda is decided by the Trioka of developing countries, which currently includes India, Indonesia, and Brazil. These countries can play a crucial role in shaping the group’s agenda and advocating for climate action.

The G20 also includes the G7 countries, which are among the largest historical emitters of greenhouse gases. The G7 countries have a responsibility to take the lead in addressing climate change, given their significant contributions to the problem. The G20 can continue to build pressure on the G7 countries to take responsibility and commit to ambitious climate targets.

In conclusion, India’s efforts to extend its health services to the rest of the world are commendable, and they demonstrate the country’s commitment to global health. The G20, with its significant economic resources, has a crucial role to play in addressing climate change, and the Trioka of developing countries can play a crucial role in shaping the group’s agenda. The G20 can also continue to build pressure on the G7 countries to take responsibility and commit to ambitious climate targets. With concerted global action, we can mitigate the effects of climate change and create a sustainable future for all.

By Sanjay Vashist, Director, CANSA.