IFMSA@COP17: The first day at the UN World Climate Conference

Today, the “Conference of the Parties 17” (COP17) officially has opened, and with more than 10.000 delegates from all over the world here – the ICC Conference Center is getting really busy and vibrant. The representation is a mixture of country delegates, UN agencies and a huge participation from civil society and the media.

And what is COP17?

COP17 is the 17th Conference of the Parties where the 192 parties (countries) who are members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meets to discuss issues related to climate change. There are a lot of very important issues on the agenda this year, and the scope for health has never been better.

There has in the past negotiations been a lack of reference to health, and even thought it’s evident that human health will be affected by climate change through changing pattern of infectious diseases, increases in vector-born diseases such as malaria and dengue, malnutrition due to droughts or floods and increases in respiratory diseases due to more urban pollution, it’s still doesn’t get the attention it should but we are here to change that. Even though health is not officially on the agenda, the representation from the health society is tremendous, and there are murmurs of the health impacts from every corner of the negotiations.

This year there are more than 40 official side events where health is on the agenda, but more interesting a lot of side events, where health is mentioned indirectly and where the health civil society can raise our voice, point out the link between for instance migration and health and raise awareness.

From my perspective every impact and every opportunity dealing with climate change can be strengthened by using the health argument, it’s just a matter of making the link, and reference to the already present data from World Health Organization (WHO), the Lancet, British Medical Journal (BMJ) etc.

This year IFMSA has a booth in the exhibition center and it’s covered with a lot of the beautiful pictures from the climate=health campaign, but not only is it covered with pictures, it’s covered with passionate and dedicated medical students, and we are here to tell our personal story and tell delegates why we are the utterly most important if we want to win the fight against climate change.

We try to cover the booth at most times in the busy hours from 8am to 7pm, and I also spend a few hours at the booth today, speaking from my heart about climate change and health, and how we as medical professionals wants to see this solved immediately.

What I have learned over the past few years of advocacy on climate change is various ways to communicate our message, and how the positive co-benefits always have to emphasize, and especially I have learned how to communicate to people from the global north. As in any other UN gathering the representation from global north and global south is unequal, and from my view it has never been difficult to convince someone, who are already impacted and vulnerable to care, but much more difficult to frame the message, to someone who might not have heard this before, and further more to communicate the message in a non-apocalyptic way. Not to say that we cover up it’s urgency, but after unreeling the vast and tremendous effects climate change will have on health, to make a smooth transition to what we can do, and that there are a whole range of benefits for public health and the economy from both mitigation and adaptation.

In terms of negotiations the first few days, is always very static and mostly formalities such as adoptions of agenda’s, voting the host for COP18 etc., so nothing very interesting to report so far.
We are really excited to be here, we are passionate, dedicated and motivated, and raising our voice for our future patients and those who can’t is the from my point of view, one of the most important obligations we have.

On behalf of the COP17 delegation,

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