Christiana Figueres gave the UCL Lancet Lecture in the Logan Hall in UCL’s Institute of Education tonight. Below are my notes of this interesting and extremely well attended occasion.
She was introduced to an audience approaching 900 people by the provost of UCL Professor Michael Arthur and then Richard Gordon of The Lancet. Richard Gordon brought to the audience’s attention (and the wider you tube audience). The Lancet’s new publication “Lancet Countdown” led by Nick Watts
This is an international research collaboration, dedicated to tracking the world’s response to climate change, and the health benefits that emerge from this transition. Reporting annually in The Lancet, it will follow a series of indicators, demonstrating that this transition is possible, that it has already begun, but that more work is needed. It is supported by the WHO , Wellcome Trust and another 16 organisations
Also a historical perspective was mentioned in that Professor John Udkin established the The International Health and Medical Education Centre at UCL in 2000 .
The speaker Christiana Figures full and impressive bio can be found at
Background info at
Why she will be working in London soon
Also the lecture is on you tube
The title of her talk was Action on Climate Change for a healthier world – putting the Paris agreement into practice
Whilst beginning a small story regarding the early days of PowerPoint it was noticeable that Ms Figueres used no power point and no notes.
The 2015 Paris agreement involved 155 Heads of State and 199 governments engaging governments in climate change. There was critical support from 1700 health associations, 800 hospitals and 13 million health professionals. 104 governments have ratified the agreement and rather than coming in 2020 it has begun November 4th 2016. The agreement is dynamic in that it is not contrary to progress but requires effort over time but sets the baseline without settings. There is a coherent model. Paris puts out a path over the next decade which is legally binding and define a destination point which a decarbonised world with carbon neutrality and debunks a fallacy that to act on climate change is more expensive than not to. Governments are not pitted in competition. Paris is both a climate and a development agreement. The agreement is a global health agreement as decreasing emissions will yield increasing health levels. The Lancet Countdown, she said, sets out the path and provides transparency to the agreement.
She discussed a number of realisations .
First the health impact of climate change. There is a potentially catastrophic risk on human health. 18,000 people die each day of air pollution. Around the world 300 million children live in areas of air pollution more than six time the WHO limits with an estimated annual death of 600.000 children affected. Most of this pollution is from fossil fuels. World wide 1/6th of all diseases are vector borne with increase in temperature these will increase in frequency. The highest burden is on developing countries with 300 million more being exposed to vector borne diseases.
Secondly the greatest opportunity for health. This will allow us to save lives. There is also the potential to save $225 billion in lost labour to death and sickness. Developing countries must still develop. A billion people on the planet have insufficient food. 25% of all land mass is degraded, this leads to migration. 12 million hectare of land are lost each year the equivalent of three time the size of Buckingham Palace lost per minute.
In the developing world woman are the main caregivers, food purchasers/preparers and gatherer of water and fuel. Figueres said that we have the technology to restore soil to improve the capacity to absorb carbon. With decrease emissions and increase absorption there is an increase in health.
Thirdly Politics. Ms Figueres said there is a dysfunctional relationship of climate change with politics. There was a need to decouple the relationship and get away from partisan politics. The Paris agreement decouples the relationship between increased emissions and increased gross domestic product. What should not be politicised and are human rights is the right to develop, right to food , the right to water, the right to health.
She finished making three requests of the audience and the wider audience
I She asked for people to translate. Climate change is too abstract a term. She wants people to translate the affects to health
II Strengthen the evidence base. National profiles are being done in many countries.Work is not yet done as only fifteen out of 189 countries have health in national plans.
III Monitor the process. The Lancet Countdown will do that. Every year governments will meet to see how they have done. There will be a “Global Stocktake” this should include the countdown but the two should be dovetailed.
Ms Figueres concluded with a short analysis of the impact of the US elections. She said the direction of travel is set by science, economics morality and technology. All these reinforce the Paris agreement. We are , she said going down a decarbonisation path. The direction of travel is set. Using an allegory, vehicles may become parked with flashing lights but we should not be distracted.
Dr Anthony Costello gave a thank you to Ms Figueres. Dr Anthony Costello now heads the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organization was previously the Director of the University College London Institute for Global Health, the founder of the NGO – Women and Children First, and has chaired two Lancet Commissions on Health and Climate Change.
He mentioned the WHO Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, 2016-2030, ie
By ending preventable deaths – maternal, newborn, child and adolescent, as well as stillbirths
By realizing their full potential – physically, mentally, and socially, and their rights to sexual and reproductive health
By driving a global people-centred movement for comprehensive change for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and sustainable development. He pointed out the need for corporations to transfer $3 trillion dollars in fossil fuel funds. (Noted UCL not compliant!) Following this there were numerous questions from the floor with reposes from Ms Figures.
On population matters she agreed that there must be an effort on this matter but birth control is a difficult question
On changing people’s ways that they have a smaller carbon foot print she agreed that red meat is bad but changing populations attitude can take time. She proposed the “power of demand” is the most effective.
Carbon pricing – we got out of a good habit with food labelling
On animal rights and biodiversity she pointed out that many years ago the loss of a particular bird resulted in her involvement in climate change.
On corporations. She has had good conversations with leading corporations. They want this to work as they want business continuity and profits. Even Saudi Aramco are changing.
GDP. The economic decoupling from Carbon is important. Bobby Kennedy described GDP as “ it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”
Full text at
After war climate change is the most common cause of displaced people and Europe is liable to take their share of this, she said.
Finally Professor Ibrahim Abubakar Director of the UCL Institute of Global Health gave a final thank you and an appreciation of all concerned.