This past weekend, representatives of 195 nations reached a landmark accord that will collectively reduce carbon emissions. Most notably, the COP21 Paris agreement demonstrated an unprecedented level of concern and inclusion of developing countries. While some have been quick to point out the flaws in the agreement, it is important to keep these changes in perspective of historical context and overall growth. Climate change is not something that will be fixed overnight, but the climate agreement in Paris is a monumental step in the right direction.
The Paris Agreement, as it stands, will take steps toward diminishing dependency on fossil fuels and reducing global temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius before 2100. To do this, the agreement:
- Put into place an enhanced transparency system for all countries
- Requires countries to report on greenhouse gas inventories
- Requires countries to report on mitigation progress
- Establishes a technical review process with agreed upon standard
The obvious loophole is the uncertain regulations and legally binding structure of this agreement, but considering the involvement of most countries to reduce carbon emissions by an even greater percentage than initially proposed, it is likely that both developed and developing countries are serious about change.
This statement is not intended to sidestep the issue of a check of balance. On the contrary, it is a call to action. Without clearly defined legal obligation, health professionals have an even greater role to play in the coming years. As Pope Francis shared on Sunday, in his praise over the 'historic' agreement, "Putting [the Paris agreement] into practice will need a concerted commitment and generous dedication on the part of all."
Every five years, beginning in 2020, the Conference of the Parties will convene to display the progress their country has made in curbing their reliance on fossil fuels. It is our role as health leaders to ensure that these actions are taken. Apart from writing your local representatives and voting for candidates who align with climate solutions, what can you (and your health institution) do?
- Talk about climate change with your peers and your patients. It's tempting to sit back and enjoy this historic move toward a solution, but we need to ensure that the agreement does, in fact, become a solution. To do this requires that as much of our population as possible understands key concepts and is on board. ecoAmerica's recent report, Let's Talk Climate, includes market-tested messages to communicate wisely within your population.
- Advocate for internal changes within your institution. The Global Green and Healthy Hospitals initiative is a terrific resource to lessen the environmental (and therefore public health) impacts of medical facilities. It is imperative that our move forward is cohesive, and that the actions of our institutions mirror the concerns of the Paris agreement.
- Unify your voice with other health care institutions. As the environmental health movement grows, we are seeing an incredible number of hospitals and health groups working together in creating a path to positive future.
- Transition your existing infrastructure. There are plenty of organizations that will assist in revamping your health care facility to meet the sustainable requirements necessary to see real change come from the Paris agreement. Check out Health Care Without Harm to get started.
- Divest/Invest. Many businesses across America have moved to divest their holdings away from fossil fuel companies, transitioning billions of dollars toward clean energy. Health care facilities are no exception. Join the movement today with our friends Divest/Invest.
- Join Climate for Health. By signing up with Climate for Health, you are instantly connected to other health leaders who engage on climate solutions and you will gain access to materials that will assist you in becoming a climate leader.
By enacting these changes, health professionals may better define the still abstract parameters of the Paris agreement. 2020 may seem far-off, but it will come faster than you think. Let's strengthen our efforts even further in 2016, and keep this momentum going!
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