Japan shocked delegates to the COP 16 Conference on Climate Change Tuesday by announcing that it would not agree to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty. Adopted in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, the Protocol sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions .These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.
As the treaty is set to expire soon, discussions of a second commitment period have been paramount in the Cancun negotiations. Representatives of many developing countries, including the Group of 77, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), have advocated strongly for a second commitment period, as this represents the only legally binding mechanism requiring developed nations to establish and work toward greenhouse gas reduction targets. Instead, Japan pledged that it will work toward targets defined under the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding treaty, as well as providing support to climate finance projects designed to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change on human health proceed apace, contributing to increased global illness and death resulting from indoor and outdoor air pollution, extreme heat events, floods, and the increasing spread of vector borne diseases. This past April-June was the warmest period ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere; in Russia alone, approximately 11,000 excess deaths were associated with the soaring tempreatures.
Clearly, the pace of political negotiations is out of step with the urgency of climate change's health effects, leaving a significant gap for public health organizations, institutions and community groups to fill. The time is now for public health leaders to identify opportunities to collaborate on research and policy interventions across sectors, strengthen climate knowledge and leadership skills, and innovate technical interventions at the community level. The Public Health Institute's Center for Public Health & Climate Change has already begun working in these areas. Join us!