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Opening High-Level Segment of the 67th World Health Assembly

19 May 2014
Opening High-Level Segment of the 67th World Health Assembly

Welcome remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Opening High-Level Segment of the 67th World Health Assembly

Palais des Nations, Assembly Hall
Monday, 19 May 2014 at 09:30 a.m.

Mr. Vice-President of the 66th World Health Assembly
Minister Berset
Director-General Chan
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a pleasure and a privilege to welcome you to the Palais des Nations and to speak for the wider United Nations system at this opening of the 67th World Health Assembly.

Over the coming week, you will address a wide range of the international community’s most significant health challenges, with a special focus on the link between climate change and health. There can be no doubt that climate change is already a grave threat to human health. It has a direct impact on the lives of people across the world, most often in the most vulnerable communities, contributing to hunger and malnutrition and the spread of disease.

It is through water that most people will feel the impact of climate change most acutely. Climate change poses the risk of diminished supplies in much of the world, as higher temperatures and extreme weather conditions affect availability, distribution and quality of water. It is estimated that by 2030 nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity. The potential negative consequences for health cannot be overstated.

Parts of the world are also increasingly being affected by extreme forms of heat, with health risks like heat stroke, exhaustion and dehydration severely affecting the productivity of people working out-of-doors and placing mounting pressures on the entire spectrum of development.

Despite the recognition of its critical importance, health remains all too often a marginal focus of development assistance that targets climate change objectives. National adaptation plans of highly affected countries are frequently insufficient to effectively address the scale of the challenge.

Yet, it is clear that if we fail to act decisively in time, climate change could grow into one of the greatest health challenges humanity has faced. We are rapidly running out of time and headroom in our global carbon budget to bring climate change under control.

Against this background, I believe that there are two overarching messages for this year’s Assembly when it comes to the connections across climate change and health:

One - We need to do more by integrating our response to climate change across the breadth of our programmes, including global public health; and

Two - We can do more only by working more closely and coherently together, within the United Nations system and with our partners.
The WHO has been a driving force in researching and advocating on climate change for decades. Based on this work, the World Health Assembly represents another opportunity to strengthen the ability of health systems to cope with the impact of our changing climate. The 2014 Climate Summit, which will be convened by the Secretary-General on 23 September, will provide an occasion for the international community to mobilize further political will with an emphasis on innovative, multi-stakeholder partnerships – and I hope that the discussions here in Geneva on the health dimensions of climate change can make a strong contribution to the Summit.

The debate on the post-2015 development agenda continues to intensify, and global public health has emerged as one of the central areas for action. A robust post-2015 framework requires a more integrated approach that brings together the imperatives of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, with health and climate-related considerations carefully incorporated and centrally reflected.

The discussions at this Assembly on all aspects of the global health challenge, represent a timely opportunity to feed into the efforts to define the post-2015 agenda and ensure that development efforts are aligned across the system. All of us within the United Nations system need to do the same to ensure coherence and efficiency in programme delivery.

An important aspect of the post-2015 agenda will be to reduce inequalities in development. As the WHO’s latest World Health Statistics – launched last week here in Geneva – showed, the rich-poor divide with respect to longevity persists, highlighting the extent of our global health challenge.

But, as the report of the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health pointed out, we have the opportunity to close the gap by 2035, with investment and the right policy frameworks. Investment in health is critical for poverty alleviation and indispensable for progress more broadly. The return on investments in health is magnified several times over in terms of development gains. Enabling all to realize their potential has to be our overarching objective and equity therefore has to be a central element in our common work.

Distinguished Delegates:

The decisions that you will take here at the World Health Assembly affect people in all corners of the world. Each in a different way, all your decisions will contribute to the promotion of peace, rights and well-being for all.

Keeping disease at bay and improving quality of life requires multiple actions and – above all – it requires partnerships – partnerships among countries, within the United Nations system, with other organizations and with civil society and the private sector. Each partner brings expertise that needs to be included in the most appropriate way.

As a multilateral hub with a large concentration of health actors, International Geneva provides an effective platform for building such partnerships and it is my hope that you at this Assembly seize the opportunity to strengthen those partnerships because collective commitment and shared resolve are necessary to improve global public health.

You may rely on the full support of the United Nations system in this important responsibility.

I wish you a most productive 67th World Health Assembly.

Thank you very much.