IFMSA @COP25: The First Week Recap

The first week of The UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 (COP25) has flown by and what a whirlwind it was. On Monday the 2nd of December, a team of passionate medical students and environmental activists from all around the world descended on Madrid.

Meghan, our wholesome Canadian who has been involved with grassroots sustainability work at her medical school following an undergrad degree in ecology; Kim, our British twitter powerhouse and planetary health PHD student; Sylvia and Jacquie, our Australian, food sustainability duo; Tarek, our beloved Tunisian Vice President of external affairs; and of course our head of delegation and queen, emerald-power suit wearing Omnia from Egypt. Bringing diverse backgrounds, ideas and perspectives; and a shared drive to achieve urgent global climate action. We arrived at COP tingling with excitement and awestruck at Madrid’s ability to pull together such an enormous event in the space of three weeks. Armed with our COP badges and our recyclable-plastic “Climate Crisis = Health Crisis” badges, we set about delivering statements, attending meetings, participating in side-events and establishing advocacy partnerships.

On day 1, we had our first meeting with the youth constituency of the UNFCCC, known as YOUNGO – an inspiring bunch of young people from all different backgrounds and all over the world. Here, we met with members of relevant YOUNGO working groups – health, where IFMSA took the lead, and agriculture, where IFMSA aimed to bring a health perspective to the issue of food systems transformation. After networking with youth we went on to meet our fellow health professionals – representatives from the WHO, the Global Climate and Health Alliance, The Lancet Countdown on Climate Change and beyond. 

What better place for a meeting than at Michael Pinsky‘s famous air pollution pods? We walked with the global climate and health community through an art installation that simulates air pollution conditions in London, New Delhi, Sal Paulo, and Beijing, experiencing first-hand the dizziness, watery eyes and nausea brought on by these conditions; and talking to the press about the long-term health effects of air pollution that are costing us 7 million lives per year – respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and even impaired neurological function.

After this awe-inspiring experience, we were grateful for the return to fresh air, and an exciting afternoon programme of side events, with the highlight being a multi-disciplinary panel on changes needed in food systems from farmer to fork in order to sustainably feed our growing population while simultaneously addressing a global double burden of malnutrition in the form of food insecurity and obesity.

Day 2 was HEALTH day! We had a diversity of health-centered side events that explored the health impacts of climate change as well as the enormous potential for health gains that arise with climate mitigation and adaptation actions. The final event of the day – a panel of experts including Dr. Diarmid Campbell, head of the WHO Climate Change Programme, Mr. David R.Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment and our very own LPH, Omnia, who demonstrated the efforts of IFMSA in integrating climate change in the medical curricula. This event was attended by the Queen of Spain! 

On Wednesday and Thursday, Jacquie and Sylvia attended the Koronivia workshops and a food systems dialogue with the YOUNGO agriculture working group, where they were happy to see that major parties, from farmers to researchers to indigenous people, agree upon the need to transform food systems for the benefit of people and planet. They also began distributing surveys about the role of health in climate negotiations and attitudes surrounding food sustainability to COP delegates. Kim worked with Arthur from WHO to assess the inclusion of health in countries’ NDCs, Meghan engaged in a successful meeting with the delegates from the Canadian Medical Association and Canadian party representatives about the need to include health in Canada’s NDCs. Omnia and Tarek engaged in tireless advocacy through speaking at side events. Around this we managed to fit in attendance at some inspiring side events where we learnt a lot! 

On Thursday, IFMSA hosted a side event with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Sorbonne, WHO and The Lancet Countdown, where our LPH explained the role of medical students in climate and health advocacy from awareness through advocacy campaigns and climate health strikes to education through curricula.

We finished strong on Friday, our last official day at COP, by staging a die-in in the morning with members of the YOUNGO health working group to raise awareness about the health impacts of climate change; and speaking about our progress in health and agriculture at the YOUNGO press conference in the evening.

Finally, we rounded out our week with the highly anticipated Global Climate and Health Summit at the University of Madrid. The day had an inspirational line-up of guests from Spain’s Minister of Health to Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environment and SDHs Department, and Nick Watts, Director of the Lancet Countdown; and an afternoon of interesting breakout sessions from topics ranging from mental health and climate change to food systems to effective engagement of civil society. Our delegate, Meghan gave an inspirational talk on her tremendous climate advocacy efforts in Canada.

Our major takeaways from the day was a need for the health community to mobilise action for climate change, an emergency that will impact the life of every child born today. We need to urgently implement climate change mitigation and adaptation actions that will not only save our planet but also empower the health of our current and future generations.

Now, we are sad to leave COP after week one and grateful for the incredible experience we had. Stay tuned for news from a new team of our IFMSA delegation for week two!

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