The Importance of Empowering Communities to Achieve Environmental Justice and Health

By path2positive

What do local clean power ordinances, pollution controls, public transport and urban agriculture have in common? You could argue they are all goals that focus on protecting the environment, and you'd be right, but these are also initiatives that aim to enhance public health. Health professionals need to encourage the integration of climate and health policy at the local level in order to improve community health. Doing this is a way to achieve environmental justice. This was a topic of discussion at this year's annual American Public Health Association meeting in Chicago. As Kimberly Wasserman, organizing and strategy director at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, told attendees (see article below), "There can be no environmental justice without social justice." Ms. Wasserman went on to explain that residents need to be intimately involved in local development decisions. Empowering community members to participate in these decisions also gives them a sense of ownership over their neighborhoods, their future and their health.

Climate Change and Health: 'No Environmental Justice Without Social Justice'

American Public Health Association's 143rd Annual Meeting and Expo

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Later this month in Paris, nearly 200 countries will convene for the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It’s being billed as one of the most important climate change meetings ever. However — if all goes as planned — it could also end up being an enormous leap for public health too.

At a Tuesday morning Annual Meeting session on “Connecting Climate Change and Health Policies: Prioritizing Necessary Actions to Protect Public Health,” presenter Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told attendees that the goal of the Paris conference is to establish binding agreements to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. In fact, in the run-up to the Paris gathering, every country has been asked to provide their intended contributions to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, the U.S. intention is to reduce such emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. However, Ethiopia’s commitment is really setting the bar high — that country intends to reduce its emissions by 64 percent by 2030, Patz said.

The whole endeavor is a bit daunting, Patz admitted, and the real question is “how are we going to get there?” But Patz thinks there’s a “secret” to this puzzle and that secret is public health. In other words, if policymakers better understood the enormous health and economic co-benefits of combating climate change — such as preventing pollution-related mortality, illness, medical care and absenteeism — then deciding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in earnest could transform from the daunting choice to the easy choice.

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