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Statement by Minister of Environment and Development, Mr. Erik Solheim

Last updated: 24.02.2012 //

Erik Solheim – white paper on global health – promoting human security through health

I would like to introduce you briefly to the third priority area in the white paper: promoting human security through health. In our view, there is a need to identify how health goals can be more closely integrated into general foreign and development policies. Climate change, pandemics, a lack of access to pharmaceuticals and sexual violence all pose threats to health. By way of illustration, I will give you a few examples relating to climate change and sexual violence.

Climate change could potentially have huge negative impacts on health, and it could hamper our chances of achieving the millennium development goals and increase the strain on weak health systems. Climate change could have a negative impact on food security, water supply and sanitation, as well as increasing the spread of communicable diseases. We will intensify efforts to prevent these impacts, with particular emphasis on food security, water supply and sanitation.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently published a special report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters. This report shows that the most vulnerable people are the poor, and that this is the case in all societies, not just in developing countries. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of all those killed in extreme events are women and children. Women, children and young people must therefore be at the centre of disaster risk management processes at all levels.

Norway is cooperating with the IPCC in organising a “roadshow” on concrete options for reducing disaster risk, which started three weeks ago in Oslo. Ways and means of improving disaster risk management were discussed at the meeting between practitioners, policy makers, researchers and representatives of different organisations. One of the topics on the agenda was the management of health-related risks. The IPCC roadshow will move on to seven other destinations, in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies climate and weather as critical health determinants, and will work to build evidence and experience into a more positive, coherent, and sustainable vision of global health. Norway will join WHO in this effort, including in building the capacity of health systems in vulnerable countries so that they are better able to respond to climate change and its health-related impacts.

The World Meteorological Organisation’s work to build a Global Framework for Climate Services is important in this regard. The Framework will contribute to disaster risk reduction, to improved food security and better water management. This will clearly benefit the health sector. Norway supports a WMO programme in Africa that focuses on strengthening climate services. I encourage further cooperation between WHO and the WMO in developing and implementing the Framework.

Climate change poses serious threats to people’s health and nutrition, but there are situations where interventions for better health can also have a positive impact on the environment and vice versa. Clean cook stoves and the reduction in emissions of black carbon and methane are examples of this.

Inhaled soot, also called black carbon, kills or debilitates millions of people each year, while emitted soot also has a warming effect on the climate. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that also acts as a catalyst to ozone production in the lower atmosphere, causing damage to crops and people’s lungs. In a recent article in the journal Science, practical methods of controlling emissions of soot and methane are presented. The group of scientists behind the article calculated the effects on health if the suggested methods were introduced. The drop in outdoor air pollution would mean that between 700 000 and 4.7 million premature deaths could be prevented each year. The drop in indoor air pollution would mean that more than a third of a million lives could be saved annually in China and India alone. As the main author of the study, climate modeller Drew Shindell puts it; “by showing the potential, the study highlights what could be done if society puts its mind to it”.

Norway is supporting several initiatives with the aim of reducing emissions of black carbon and methane, and we will intensify our efforts this year. For example, we are supporting the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The World Health Organization considers harmful cookstove smoke to be one of the top five threats to public health in poor, developing countries. Cookstove smoke contributes to a range of chronic illnesses and acute health impacts such as early childhood pneumonia, emphysema, cataracts, lung cancer, bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, and low birth weight.
Norway supports efforts to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a way of showing renewed political commitment to sustainable development. Such goals should integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, economic and social) and be universal in nature. SDGs should complement the MDGs. They could be an important contribution from Rio to the post-2015 agenda.

We are delighted to have Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland with us today. Dr Brundtland has been a member of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability. Her background from global health and sustainable development has been most valuable in the preparation of the panel’s report Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing.

The panel’s task was to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity, and to make recommendations for putting sustainable development into practice and mainstreaming it into economic policy as quickly as possible. The report clearly shows linkages between sustainable development and global health.

One of the areas that is highlighted is the need for improved access to family planning and other reproductive rights and health services, if secure sustainable development is to be secured. I would like to quote from the report: “It [family planning] not only provides immediate health benefits and reductions in maternal and child mortality, but slows population growth, helps end poverty passed on from one generation to another and lightens the burden on countries with poor natural resource endowments.”  This is very much in line with Norwegian policy, as stated in the white paper.

Family planning is also about the right of girls and women to control their own sexuality and fertility. This leads me to another important aspect of human security that has high priority in Norwegian policy, namely conflict-related sexual violence. This is a complex problem that must be addressed from different angles. In a conflict situation, the health of women is often most severely affected. In a number of conflicts we have seen how rape is used as a tactic of war and how sexual violence spreads as social structures break down. The effects can be devastating. HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and mental health problems are just some of the serious consequences resulting from sexual violence.

Norway has been at the forefront of efforts to recognise sexual violence as a threat to international peace and security, through the follow-up of the Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security. In terms of awareness-raising and political commitment, we have come a long way since Security Council resolution 1325 was adopted more than 10 years ago. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates bear testimony to this progress.

The health sector has an important role to play in the prevention of sexual violence, as well as in the treatment of victims and rehabilitation. We will work to ensure that the global health initiatives we are involved in include these three dimensions, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. We will continue to support access to reproductive health services, including safe abortion, in conflict and crisis situations.

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