16 September 2020 at 1:26 pm
A group of prominent South African public health experts and practitioners has written to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni calling for stronger leadership from the South African government on climate, energy and health in building a post-COVID-19 South Africa.
In a letter to Minister Mboweni on 14 September 2020, the Climate, Energy and Health Special Interest Group of the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) writes that it is necessary to act now to combat climate change and build a new, resilient economy. The Special Interest Group has appealed to Minister Mboweni to lead his fellow Cabinet members toward securing ecologically sustainable development in South Africa. “People’s health is the bottom line of climate change,” writes the group.
Minister Mboweni is representing South Africa at a G20 health and finance ministers meeting on 17 September 2020, focused on planning for future pandemics.
The PHASA Special Interest Group has urged Minister Mboweni to “ensure that these plans include investments in health systems, that they are inclusive, and that they fully integrate environmental sustainability and effective climate responses for the health of present and future generations”.
The letter to Minister Mboweni is part of a growing global campaign to bring attention to the health impacts of climate change, particularly as countries continue to battle to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, an international petition was sent to the leaders of G20 nations in May 2020, supported by over 350 organisations representing more than 40 million health professionals from 90 different countries, all calling for a #HealthyRecovery from COVID19. In South Africa, the PHASA Special Interest Group wrote to the Minister of Health, the Minister of the Environment, and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy in July 2020, asking government to avoid locking South Africa into economic development patterns that will do permanent damage to ecological systems that sustain all human health and livelihoods.
The Centre for Environmental Rights welcomes this proactive stance by public health officials, who are the frontline responders to the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with partners like groundWork, Earthlife Africa and the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement, CER has worked for years to build awareness around the massive health impacts of air pollution from the mining and burning of coal, and the health risks posed by the climate change caused by those activities.
“South Africa’s own climate change response policy acknowledges that the country is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including extreme heat and prolonged droughts. These impacts are likely to be exacerbated by existing inequalities – especially affecting women and children,” says CER Attorney Timothy Lloyd.
In its recent report No going back to normal – Imagining a Just Recovery in South Africa, environmental group 350Africa.org emphasises that “there is a desperate need to ensure that our recovery path prioritises not a ‘return to normal’ but a transformative vision for our society”.
The Centre for Environmental Rights and 350Africa.org join this call to the South African government to seize this opportunity, in order to build a more healthy, just and equal, less exploitative, outcome for people and planet.
The Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) is a national voluntary organisation established in 2000. Its members include a broad range of public health practitioners in South Africa, SADC and further afield, including academics, researchers, epidemiologists, public health medicine specialists, as well as public sector employees at national, provincial and local levels. PHASA advocates for equitable access to the basic conditions necessary to achieve health for all South African as well as equitable access to effective health care.
The Climate Energy and Health Special Interest Group of the Public Health Association of South Africa is a network of more than 180 practitioners, decision-makers, researchers, lobbyists, students and academics, among others, working in the fields of public health, energy and fossil fuels, and climate vulnerability and change.