UN Climate Speech / 14 Nov, 2017
Planetary Health An Essential Part of Human Health

At the High-Level Planetary Health Event at COP 23 (Nov. 13, 2017), UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, called for a more holistic view of health throughout the world; one that includes the concept of planetary health. These are her remarks at that event. 


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this special event and to our partners: the World Health Organization and the Rockefeller Foundation.

I look around this room and see people who have come from all corners of the globe and gathered in Bonn with one purpose: to participate in the collective search of solutions to  challenges that affect all of humanity.

It’s important to remember how truly remarkable this is.

Never before has humanity been this mobile, this connected, this socially aware, or had the tools to affect change like we do right now.  

This connectivity has helped people around the world address some big, interlinked challenges.

For example, life expectancy has increased more than 20 years in the past half century.

Death rates in children under five have decreased.

And the total number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by 700 million people over the past 30 years.

But we’ve neglected other connections that allowed us to advance to this point—connections that were instinctual to our ancestors.

And that’s what we are here to discuss.

We are here because we must reestablish the idea that the health of humankind is intricately connected to the health of the overall environment and with other living beings.

It seems like such a basic, fundamental idea, but one we seem to have forgotten.

Our use and abuse of natural resources has had severely negative impacts for people throughout the world.

For example, pollution from fires and the combustion of fossil and solid fuels is resulting in respiratory diseases and millions of deaths—especially children.

Overfishing and the warming and acidification of water bodies are disrupting coral reefs and fish supplies—resulting in food insecurity, disease and poverty.

Extreme weather events related to climate change, as we’ve recently seen in all parts of the world, are also a significant cause of illness and death.

Carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity are reducing the nutritional content of crops such as wheat, rice, barley and soy.

This puts hundreds of millions of people—especially those living in Africa and South Asia—at risk for vitamin deficiencies.

If we’re to correct the course we’re currently on, we need a broader view of health; one that directly connects human and animal health with the health of the planet.

If we take this view, we can improve the lives of individuals, families and communities around the world, today and in the future.

And we will support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement—both of which recognize the importance of regional and global coordination to solve complex challenges.

For this idea of planetary health to be truly effective, however, we need everyone to do their part.

We need researchers to develop further evidence on the health effects of environmental change.

We need health professionals to educate communities about those changes and advocate for policies that integrate health care and environmental care at the primary level.

We need multilateral institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to help in a variety of ways.

This includes monitoring planetary health and advocating for reforms of tax, subsidy and trade policies that support planetary health.

We need national governments to use evidence-based policies to promote human health and prosperity while, at the same time, preserving the environment.

We need the business community to demonstrate leadership by doing a better job with respect to sustainability and promoting reform throughout the global economy.

And, of course, we need civil society organizations to develop broad-based public movements for social change.

UN Climate Change is working on the issue of planetary health in several ways, including our Momentum for Change initiative.

Momentum for Change, which is hosting today’s event, shines a light on some of the most innovative, scalable and practical examples of what people across the globe are doing to combat climate change.

We call these examples Lighthouse Activities, and they’re a big part of our wider efforts to mobilize action and ambition, as national governments work toward implementing the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

We are pleased to have representatives from one of those activities here today. 

Their project is called We Care Solar and it saves lives in childbirth by bringing solar power to remote, off-grid, under-resourced medical centers throughout Africa.

How? With compact, rugged and immediately-operational Solar Suitcases.

These suitcases provide power for medical lighting, essential electricity, and fetal monitoring for essential obstetric care.

We Care Solar has reached more than 2,400 health facilities and it’s an initiative that saves lives.

Health workers no longer struggle to provide life-saving care with inadequate and dangerous lighting, such as kerosene lanterns, candles, and diesel fuel generators.

This also significantly improves the health of the women giving birth, as well as their children.

This is just one example of this year’s 19 innovative and inspiring Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities.

I’m truly excited about these projects and I encourage you to discover more of them on our website.

Ladies and gentlemen, the simple fact is this: we are only as healthy as our planet.

By working together to reconnect what was once instinctual to our ancestors, to truly understand our role in the delicate, interwoven web of life, we have the potential to not only build a healthier planet…

…but a planet that is greener and cleaner for us all.

Once again, I’d like to thank the Rockefeller Foundation for its generous support for this initiative.

And I look forward to hearing the results of your panel discussion.

Thank you.

Please note: This is the prepared text of the speech and may differ from the delivered version.