Duterte links health challenges to climate change; calls to honor Paris pact

DAVAO CITY—A historic meeting between the Philippines and Pacific island nations opened in this city on Friday to tackle urgent health problems in the region and seize opportunities to increase investments in public health and climate resilience.

President Duterte, who also chairs the country’s Climate Change Commission (CCC), gave a rousing speech on Thursday night’s welcome dinner of the Asia Pacific Healthy Islands conference.

Duterte framed the region’s health-sector challenges within the context of the climate crisis, calling on all countries to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement and contribute their fair share of global climate action.

“Climate change is not a typhoon that visits your country once a year. Climate change is a day-to-day problem,” Duterte said, noting that “a 1-degree [Celsius] change in the temperature would be disastrous.”

Pacific island nations, including the Philippines, consider a 2-degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels nothing short of an existential threat, given their common vulnerability to climate-change impacts—such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and more extreme heat waves and rainfall, such as those currently slamming Japan, Greece and Lao PDR.

“The Philippines and its Pacific neighbors fought together to enshrine the 1.5-degree Celsius warming threshold in the Paris Agreement,” said Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman, CCC vice chairman.

De Guzman led the Philippine presidency of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a group of 48 Pacific and other developing nations, during the Paris climate negotiations. Later this year, the Republic of the Marshall Islands will take on the CVF chair.

“Vulnerable countries must stand together in solidarity and lead the call for urgent climate action worldwide. We can only do so much on our own to implement Paris. We must protect not only our islands but our people’s health and well-being not tomorrow but today,” he added.

Health ministers and other high-ranking officials from Pacific island nations graced the conference, which aims to link practical solutions to various public health problems worsened by the impacts of climate change.

“Pacific island nations urgently need reliable clean energy that can power health centers and produce safe water, more highly trained medical staff, better technology and financing facilities more responsive to their needs,” said Dr. Susan Pineda-Mercado, special envoy of the president for global health initiatives and the first-ever woman and developing-country candidate vying for the Asia-Pacific directorship of the World Health Organization.

“We need to urgently elevate the investment agenda of the Pacific’s health sector in a way that is sensitive to the worsening impacts of climate change, while also providing funding, capacity building and technology transfer programs that can advance healthier and more resilient island systems across the Pacific,” Pineda-Mercado added.



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