In the preceding 3 days before the United Nations climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar,
hundreds of youth from all around the world passionate about finding a solution about climate
change gather together in the 8th Conference of Youth COY8. Although being an IFMSAian, I am
somewhat accustomed to attending international conferences and meeting youth from all around
the world, the power of youth never fails to amaze me.
Climate change, whilst being the biggest threat to global health in the 21 st century, is also the biggest
challenge that human being as a race has ever faced. Despite the extensive scientific evidence
supporting climate change, the political action towards addressing it has been disappointing at
best. It is inspiring when hundreds of youth who aspire towards a stable, healthy and prosperous
world for future generations come together to push for that holy grail of a fair, ambitious and legally
binding climate agreement. The secretariat of UN climate talks Christiana Figures dropped by at
COY8 to encourage youth to be ambitious and aspirational.
Perhaps the most important thing I have learnt during COY8 was the place of value in climate
change. Values are crucial in terms of bridging between scientific evidence and public action. Health
is a key value in most people’s lives. Health evokes the sense of happiness, self-determination,
empowerment, fitness and etc. I have also learnt that shifting our society away fossil fuel has to be
driven by a change in our values and in our consumerist lifestyle.
During COY8, myself from the IFMSA and Jonny Elliott from Healthy Planet UK delivered a workshop
on climate change and health. It is surprising how many people were not aware of health effects
of climate change, but the interest in health was really encouraging. We talked about the health
effects of climate change as well as the co-benefits for health with climate change mitigation. Health
has a dual place in the UN climate negotiations. Firstly, health provides one of the most powerful
incentives for climate change action. As the extreme weather events due to climate change are
already visible in parts of the world, more than ever, health can be used by campaigners all around
the world when connecting with public and politicians. The health message has such potential in
terms of creating a positive message and positive vision. Secondly, health has to be protected in
climate change adaptation through funding, technological transfer, capacity building, participation
and etc – which is something that the IFMSA has to work on.
As I sit in the closing ceremony, the negotiator from the Phillippines is telling us a story about
typewriters. The old prototype of typewriter which was in alphabetical order caused people joint
pains when typing. However, because of this joint problem, an opportunity window opened for
innovation to create the a simpler modern keyboard that we are used to today with letters that are
close to each other in the same rows. Similarly, climate change presents us a unique opportunity to
create more efficient and resilient health systems and foster healthier and more active populations.
As extreme weather events start to happen more frequently around the world, as Obama wins
his second election and promises to pay more attention to climate change this time and as China
changes its leadership, perhaps we have the triggers we need for the world to move forward in
climate change. In the next two weeks, I will be observing the UN process to identify its gaps and
also potential solutions. I will try to not to lose my faith as my view of the UN process becomes more
realistic. What will happen by the end of COP? I don’t know.
All I know is that as important and as glamorous the UN meeting may appear to be, the real changes
in created by climate action are on a grass-root level. This is why the work of IFMSA NMOs on
climate and health is so crucial. I look forward to pouring my knowledge and experience into climate
and health work after UN climate talks. I also look forward to embracing that attitude of being
young, hopelessly aspirational but also ruthlessly pragmatic at the same time.
‘If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem’
Dear friends, I challenge you to take action in climate change and health today!
Rennie Qin on behalf of the IFMSA delegation to COP18