November 7, 2021 / / Climate Change

To be honest, I didn’t expect to see a Formula One racing car on display in the Blue Zone. But there it was, all shiny black, signalling that thanks to EV technology nothing is going to change: global warming will not ruin your Sunday afternoons sitting on the sofa watching the Grand Prix. But let’s not talk about the sacrifices you’re willing to make for climate change – it will just make James Murray very, very angry. Instead, let’s reflect for a moment on the week that was Week One of COP26 in Glasgow.

October 25, 2021 / / Climate Change

Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) in September. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis is the most comprehensive assessment of “new scientific evidence relevant for a world whose climate system is rapidly changing, overwhelmingly due to human influence” (IPCC, AR6 Ch1 p1). AR6 does not assess the science related to either the impacts on or vulnerability to human health from climate change, or adaptations required to mitigate those impacts and vulnerability (that is the remit of the IPCC’s Working Group 2, whose Report will be published early next year). Nevertheless, it does provide a preliminary climate science perspective on the relationship between global warming and health. 

September 23, 2021 / / Climate Change

It’s all but impossible to keep up with the number of reports on climate change, even those published just this month. Close on the heels of the IPCC WG1 report, three noteworthy publications came out in September: Niklas Höhne et al’s Nature article Wave of net zero emission targets opens window to meeting the Paris Agreement; a climate change risk assessment published by Chatham House and written by Daniel Quiggin et al; and the UNFCCC’s synthesis report Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement (advance version, Sept 17th). A fourth publication, the WMO’s United in Science 2021 provides a useful synthesis of climate analysis compiled from various other sources. In this post, I summarise some key messages – mainly for my own benefit, but you may find it useful too.

September 15, 2021 / / Climate Change

COP26 is taking place in Glasgow from 31st October to the 12th November. The UK government, which is co-hosting the event with Italy, has produced an explainer – read it carefully because, as COP 26 President-designate Alok Sharma ‘underscores’: “Climate change ultimately threatens life on Earth”. The explainer describes four broad aims to this year’s COP: 1) Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach; 2) Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; 3) Mobilise finance; and 4) Work together to deliver. As we roll – or cycle in my case – towards the COP (I’m cycling to Glasgow from Shrewsbury), here are some initial thoughts about these aims.

September 2, 2021 / / WHO

WHO cares? Well, yes, WHO – the World Health Organisation – does actually care. It cares a lot about a lot of things – all of which are beneficial to my, yours, everyone’s health on the planet. But that isn’t generally where I start a conversation with someone largely ignorant of what WHO is and what it does. Typically, it starts with a bit of something that they might have picked up on the internet about how WHO is corrupt, useless, and/or a puppet of the Gates Foundation, the pharmaceutical industry, or China. It’s a shame that people are so ignorant of, and thus so quick to denigrate, an international organisation that does so much good. As someone who has researched and taught students about WHO for many years, and who also happens to lead a course on global health, the media and what Carl Bergstrom would call ‘bullshit’, I feel moderately qualified to review the recent Insight Investigation on WHO by a couple of The Sunday Times journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnot (C&A). It’s called China, the WHO and the powergrab that fuelled a pandemic, but don’t let that arbitrary constellation of words confuse you.

June 1, 2021 / / Globalisation

Do you remember that Special Theme Issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization back in 2001? Yes, the one on globalisation and health. Well, it’s celebrating its twentieth birthday this year. How time flies, eh? Globalisation was all the rage when I was completing my masters degree, and ’79(9)’ – as I affectionately liked to call it – was a surprisingly exciting read! So it was almost nostalgic to be discussing one of the articles from that special issue with a post-graduate student yesterday. Perhaps you’ve read it? David Woodward, Nick Drager, Robert Beaglehole and Deborah Lipson’s: ‘Globalization and health: a framework for analysis and action*’. The framework is quite well-known in certain niche corners of global health (it’s been cited 106 times) and – seeing as it’s on my mind and is celebrating a significant milestone this year – I thought I’d ‘critically reflect’ on its merits.

May 1, 2021 / / Climate Change

You know the cartoon I mean? It’s the one with the IPCC scientist standing at the front of an auditorium in 1990 warning that “this climate change thing could be a problem” and becoming increasingly anxious at subsequent six-yearly meetings until, in 2019, exasperated at the fact that no-one is heeding his warnings, taps the microphone asking out loud ‘Is this thing on?’ I often think of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres when I see that cartoon. He must wonder whether anyone is listening to his repeated warnings of impending ecological and climate breakdown.

January 17, 2021 / / WHO

The Executive Board of the World Health Organisation is meeting next week. It’s going to be an important meeting and, thanks to the wonder of the internet, you can watch it live from tomorrow. I was invited by the Peoples Health Movement to write a commentary on two documents that will be presented to the Board by the head of WHO’s Secretariat, Dr Tedros. The first is EB148/27: Update on the financing and implementation of the Programme budget 2020–2021, which I wrote about yesterday. The second, and the subject of this blogpost, is EB148/25: Draft Proposed programme budget 2022–2023: Building forward better. It’s an astonishing document, but at 117 pages perhaps one that few people will read. So I’ll try to summarise it as best as I ca… Oh, you just want to know how much the budget is going to be? Sigh, ok: US$6.1bn – just 5% more than the approved budget for 2020-21.

If you want to read all of PHM’s Comments on the various topics under discussion at EB148, you can access them at PHM’s WHO Tracker, coordinated by David Legge. It’s a vital resource and provides a critical commentary on all the major global health challenges facing the word today.

January 16, 2021 / / WHO

It’s January, so that can only mean one thing – the first of two annual meetings of the World Health Organisation’s Executive Board. The January meeting is the more important of the two meetings as it’s when the agenda and resolutions of the May World Health Assembly are agreed and adopted. It’s also fun to watch as the members of the Board typically dress up as their favourite Lord of the Rings character and engage in some pretty convincing Tolkein-esque cosplay. Historically, the US member likes to think of themself as The Ring of Power, but this year Admiral Brett Giroir has agreed to dress as Gollum in recognition of his country’s sterling contribution to international cooperation over the past year.

In this post, I reflect on one of two documents presented to the board on WHO financing – EB148/27 Update on the financing and implementation of the Programme budget 2020–2021. In a follow up post, I’ll take a look at EB148/25 Proposed programme budget 2022–2023: Building forward better. Think of these two posts as some ‘looking back’/’looking forward’ reflections on WHO funding pre and (hopefully) post-Covid.

December 27, 2020 / / Climate Change

There’s little to admire about this year’s Reith lectures, delivered by ex-governor of the Bank of England Dr (a title conspicuous in its new-found usage) Mark Carney, United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Finance, and now Finance Adviser to UK PM Johnson for COP26 in Glasgow next year. Sure, they are well-structured and tightly argued. But Carney is deliberately ambiguous. His words often hit the right notes but they are open to a very wide degree of interpretation. If we take his words literally, then they could be interpreted as progressive. But when we take a moment to reflect critically on what Carney is really saying, it’s much less clear. Carney has a role to play, and he plays it very well. Don’t be fooled.