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Dean Margaret Chan Calls for Accelerating towards Net Zero Emissions

On February 10, Dr. Margaret Chan, the Dean of Vanke School of Public Health of Tsinghua University and the Emeritus Director-General of the World Health Organization, published an article in The Lancet – Planetary Health, calling for accelerating towards net zero emission. She stresses that this measure is the most important global health intervention, since climate change affects the interests and well-being of all populations. On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Paris Agreement), Dr. Chan's appeal further enhances the ambition of global climate governance.

Cover of “The Lancet – Planetary Health” Feb.2021

Source: “The Lancet – Planetary Health” Website

This article analyzes the health effects of climate change, and emphasizes that "no population is left untouched", even for people in high-income countries. However, according to Dr. Chan, low-income and middle-income countries, which account least for the problem and are least prepared for confronting the issues, are suffering the worst health impacts of climate change. It also points out that climate change and other environmental threats “increase the risk of future pandemics and leave the world vulnerable”.

Dr. Chan, therefore, calls for immediate global action to address climate change, so as to improve population health and to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The article urges all countries to put forward more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) at the next UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021 to limit the global warming to 1.5°C this century.

It is argued that “stronger climate change commitments can come with great improvements in population health, benefiting current and future generations”. Based on the research by Ian Hamilton and his colleagues, these health benefits will outbalance the costs of mitigating policies, without taking into account the long-term health and economic benefits of refraining from more severe climate change. The findings, in alignment with the global responses to COVID-19, strengthen the importance of a “Health in All Policies” approach, which refers to adopting a health improvement framing into all policy decisions. With countries’ commitments to the Paris Agreement and policy makers’ adopting the Health in All Policies approach, it is believed that the burden of non-communicable diseases in the short term as well as the risks in relation to climate change in the long run will be reduced, and hundreds of millions of lives will be saved.

The article further emphasizes that in the context of the global pandemics, countries which keep health as a focus of economic stimulus measures will achieve the best possible health outcomes results for current and future generations.

Margaret Chan has been committed to advancing the development of public health and effectively promoting global response to climate change. During her tenure as Director-General of the World Health Organization, malaria-related deaths decreased by 62% between 2000 and 2015; Child mortality decreased by 53% between 1990 and 2015; The mortality caused by neglected tropical diseases has been significantly reduced, and the treatment has been widely improved; Importantly, during this period, countries adopted the “The Sustainable Development Agenda 2030”, in which 17 SDGs and 169 specific goals were set to ensure the vigorous development of human society. She also witnessed the adoption of the Paris Agreement which aims to limit global temperature rise within a safe range.

Further information:

Dr. Margaret Chan’s article  “Accelerating towards net zero emissions: the most important global health intervention”, was published in The Lancet - Planetary Health  in February 2021.  It can be accessed at the following link: