Lower income countries score high in health-aligned climate change policy

The latest scorecard on how strongly climate policies are aligned to health gives South Africa a seven out of 15 rating. 

The scorecard, by the Global Climate and Health Alliance, found that developing countries scored the highest for aligning their climate change commitments and policies to health. ​​Cambodia, Moldova and Cabo Verde each secured 14, followed by Costa Rica with 13. 

Each country’s updated documents submitted to the United Nations are rated by the alliance.

Health effects of climate change are both direct, through extreme weather events, food and water insecurity and infectious diseases, and indirect, through economic instability, migration and as a driver of conflict according to the Global Climate and Health Alliance.

“A more recent analysis suggests that as many as 400 000 deaths are attributable to climate change in 2010, with a significant increase in this figure expected by 2030,” it said.

South Africa’s cabinet approved an updated nationally determined contribution (NDC), which are the harmful gas emissions a country commits to stopping and a binding requirement for parties to the United Nations convention to deal with climate change. 

The health scoring assesses South Africa’s draft emissions commitment, which have improved since the President’s climate commission recommended that the country improve its targets to, among other things, be eligible for the international financial support it needs to meet them. 

James Irlam, a convener of the Climate, Energy and Health special interest groups and the Public Health Association of South Africa, said the country must clarify what it will commit its own resources to, and what will depend on international financing. 

“South Africa’s draft NDC recognises the right to a healthy environment but fails to adequately consider health in a country and region so vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change,” he said. 

The presidential climate commission’s deputy chair, Valli Moosa, said that higher ambition is possible without negatively affecting the economy, and will set the stage for longer-term competitiveness. 

“Also, higher ambition will lead to a net jobs increase,” he said. 

President Cyril Ramaposa gave the recommendations his backing, saying he expected the country to raise its commitment.

Jeni Miller, the executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, said: “Since the release of the healthy NDC score card first edition two months ago, the global impacts of climate change on people’s lives have amplified — through wildfires and floods on an almost daily basis — but we have yet to see any tangible reaction from governments of many high emitting countries to address health impacts.

“Meanwhile, smaller countries bearing the brunt of climate impacts are taking action in the form of their climate commitments to protect their citizens, demonstrating a clear understanding of the need to protect people’s health.”

South Africa is the world’s 12th highest emitter of greenhouse gases and contributes much more to climate change than most African countries. 

Miller said with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) fast approaching, governments needed to make people’s health the keystone of their climate policy “by making and meeting commitments to dramatically cut greenhouse gas activities and by building health and equity into national climate mitigation, adaptation and financing”. 

Commenting on South Africa’s rating, the authors said the country was responsible for more than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but the climate ambition described in its draft nationally determined contribution falls short of the level needed]. 

The scores are likely to change when the next UN report on parties’ updated commitments are released in October. 

Tunicia Phillips is an Adamela Trust climate and economic justice reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.

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Tunicia Phillips
Tunicia Phillips is an investigative, award-winning journalist who has worked in broadcast for 10 years. Her beats span across crime, court politics, mining energy and social justice. She has recently returned to print at the M&G working under the Adamela Trust to specialise in climate change and environmental reporting.

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