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The influence of health concerns in scientific and policy debates on climate change
  1. Stefanie Schütte1,
  2. Anneliese Depoux1,2,
  3. Sara Vigil3,4,
  4. Corinne Kowalski1,
  5. François Gemenne3,5,
  6. Antoine Flahault1,6
  1. 1 Centre Virchow-Villermé for Public Health Paris-Berlin, Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France
  2. 2 Groupe de recherches interdisciplinaires sur les processus d'information et de communication (EA 1498), Université Paris Sorbonne Cité - Celsa, Paris, France
  3. 3 The Hugo Observatory, Universite de Liege, Liege, Belgium
  4. 4 International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands
  5. 5 Sciences Po, Paris, France
  6. 6 Institute of Global Health, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Antoine Flahault, Institute of Global Health, University of Geneva, 9 Chemin des Mines, Geneva 1202, Switzerland; Antoine.Flahault{at}

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In 2009, scientists argued that climate change was the ‘biggest global health threat of the 21st century’,1 and 6 years later ‘the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century’.2 While a minority of populations may experience health benefits (mostly due to a reduction in diseases related to cold weather), the global burden of disease and premature death is expected to increase progressively.3 For instance, one study showed that heat-related deaths would be expected to rise by around 257% by the 2050s from a current annual baseline of approximately 2000 deaths.4

Much of the policy development on climate change comes from the negotiations between the 195 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), working towards a common long-term vision of limiting global warming.

The 21th Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015 was one milestone in the fight against climate change, as all countries agreed to take action by curbing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and keep global warming well below 2°C. The agreement also included a regular review of national commitments every 5 years to check progress. Moreover, it represented an important step to protect and promote health in the face of climate change: for the first time ‘the right to health’ was mentioned in the global agreement on climate change. The WHO referred to the COP21 as ‘a historic win for human health’, and this climate treaty might actually become a public health treaty as countries take action to develop adaptation plans that will protect human health from the worst impacts of climate change.5 This opinion article seeks to present the role of health concerns in the scientific debates on climate change, but also in actual climate policies and international negotiations.

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  • Contributors SS and AD equally contributed in planning, conducting and reporting of the work in this paper. Conception and interpretation were done by FG and AF, who both supervised the work. SV and CK provided substantial contribution in writing and in final editing of the paper.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Correction notice This paper has been amended since it was published Online First. Owing to a scripting error, some of the publisher names in the references were replaced with ‘BMJ Publishing Group’. This only affected the full text version, not the PDF. We have since corrected these errors and the correct publishers have been inserted into the references.