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European governments adopt comprehensive plan to reduce environmental risks to health by 2020

Date

12 Mar 2010

Sections

Health & Consumers

Copenhagen and Parma, 12 March 2010

Governments from northern, western, central, southern and eastern Europe agreed on a declaration today pledging to reduce the adverse health impact of environmental threats in the next decade. The text was endorsed by 53 Member States attending the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Parma, Italy on 10–12 March 2010.

Through the Declaration and Commitment to Act, participating governments agreed to implement national programmes to provide equal opportunities to each child by 2020 by ensuring access to safe water and sanitation, opportunities for physical activity and a healthy diet, improved air quality and an environment free of toxic chemicals.

Governments vowed to tackle the adverse health impact of climate change and to reduce social and gender inequalities in exposure to risk. They also pledged to place health at the centre of socioeconomic development through increased investment in new technologies and green jobs. 

“We need a radically new vision for European health policy to address the biggest health challenges of our Region. This Conference has opened an exciting new chapter in the way European governments work on environment and health – helping to push these closely inter-related issues higher up the political agenda,” says Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Climate change and health – a priority for action

In this first major gathering of health and environment ministers since the Copenhagen conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change last December, European governments pledged to integrate health issues into climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, policies and strategies in all sectors. 

Evidence is growing that climate change is contributing to an increase in the frequency of natural disasters, such as heat-waves, floods and droughts. Since 1990, the International Disaster Database (EM-DAT) has recorded more than 1200 natural events in the WHO European Region, affecting over 48 million people and causing more than 112 000 deaths, at an estimated loss of more than US$ 241 billion. 

Future work will be based on a new European regional framework for action, entitled Protecting health in an environment challenged by climate change. The document provides a comprehensive roadmap laying out steps and priorities for coordinated international and national action. 

Delegates also underlined that the health sector, one of the most energy-intensive sectors in all countries, should lead moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the public sector by rationalizing energy use. They also agreed to strengthen early-warning surveillance and preparedness systems for extreme weather events and disease outbreaks. 

The way forward – support from key delegates

“A significant proportion of Europeans suffers from health problems linked to environmental conditions. Vulnerable groups, such as children, pregnant women and socially disadvantaged people are particularly affected. Policy-makers have the responsibility to address this problem. The European Commission will play its part by continuing to focus attention across European Union policies on environmental impacts on health,” says John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy.

“Integration of environment and health issues into the policies of other sectors, like transport, energy, industry or agriculture, and related investments would in turn reduce impacts and save the costs of inaction. Environment and health objectives can also serve as an engine to boost innovation and competitiveness: the main challenge now is to address environment and health concerns through socioeconomic policies. The Parma Declaration is an important step to join efforts at local, national and international level in this direction,” says Ms Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italian Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea.

“The Conference outcomes entrust the health sector with a stronger responsibility. Not only can many of the environmental effects be controlled through well-known health-system interventions, such as primary prevention or health care; but the health sector can take a leading role with other sectors in advocating for a reduction in risk exposure,” notes Professor Ferruccio Fazio, Italian Minister of Health. 

The future of the European environment and health process

In September 2010, Member States will gather in Moscow for the sixtieth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, WHO’s highest decision-making body at the regional level, to endorse the outcomes of this Conference through a resolution.

During 2010 and beyond, the European environment and health process will be revitalized through a series of new arrangements. 

The governments gathered in Parma agreed to strengthen political coordination between regular ministerial conferences, and will now involve ministers directly in steering the Process – to ensure that cross-sectoral issues are given the highest possible political profile. 

Ministers from the 53 European Member States will meet again at the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in 2016.

Notes to editors

1. The Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health: “Protecting children’s health in a changing environment” was organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and hosted by Italy’s Ministry of Health and Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea. The European Environment and Health Committee – which brings together national governments, the European Commission, and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations – has been the steering committee.

2. The Conference was a carbon-neutral event, using environmentally sound materials and products only. Participants were given free tickets for electric public buses and access to bicycles, and organizers supported the local economy by buying locally sourced food. All Conference waste was recycled and the Municipality of Parma offset all other carbon costs.

3. The Conference was the fifth such event held in the WHO European Region as part of the European environment and health process, which began over 20 years ago. The first four conferences were hosted by the governments of Germany (in 1989), Finland (in 1994), the United Kingdom (in 1999) and Hungary (in 2004).

4. The regional framework for action Protecting health in an environment challenged by climate change was welcomed in the Declaration’s Commitment to Act. This document was developed by the European Task Force on Climate Change and Health, chaired by Serbia and the United Kingdom. Participation in the Task Force was open to all Member States and agencies in the European Region and the WHO Regional Office for Europe acted as the secretariat.

5. For further information on the Conference, including all Conference documents and the Declaration, please see the Conference web site (http://www.euro.who.int/parma2010).

Link:

EM-DAT The International Disaster Database. Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters http://www.emdat.be 

PRESS INFORMATION:
Ms Cristiana Salvi
Technical Officer, Partnership and Communication
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Via Francesco Crispi 10, I-00187 Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39 06 4877543, mobile: +39 348 0192305
Fax: +39 06 4877599. E-mail: csa@ecr.euro.who.int
TECHNICAL INFORMATION:
Ms Francesca Racioppi
Acting Head, Rome Office
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Via Francesco Crispi, 10, I-00187 Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39 064877545. Fax +39 064877599

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