BLOG: COP21 begins today in Paris | Breast Cancer UK

BLOG: COP21 begins today in Paris

Published 30 Nov 2015

COP 21, or the “21st Conference of the Parties” takes place in France between 30th November and 11th December 2015. It will see heads of state from around the globe gather to discuss, and hopefully sign up to, a new international agreement on climate change to help to keep global warming below 2°C.   

It took a long time, and many decades of scientific “proof” but it is now almost universally accepted that climate change, caused by human behaviour, will have a catastrophic impact on our environment.  Melting ice caps, rising sea levels and increasing temperatures will in turn lead to more extreme weather systems, forced migration and widespread loss of biodiversity.  If that wasn’t enough (or already obvious), experts also predict that climate change presents the “greatest global threat to human health in the 21st century”[1].   

As is so often the case, it will be the poorest on our planet that are, and will continue to be, the most harshly affected by the adverse health impacts of climate change.  Those already blighted by water shortages, conflict, poverty and famines will be hit even harder by forced migration, extreme heatwaves, water contamination  and the increase in diseases that are likely to result from hotter temperatures.  But the western world will not go untouched either.   As well as the adverse health effects brought on by more frequent droughts, heatwaves and the increase in vector borne diseases, we are also likely to see a rise in certain cancers too.  As the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the US points out; heavy rainfall and flooding as a result of climate change could lead to an increase in our exposure to toxic chemicals; changes in air temperature and precipitation will affect the volatility of certain chemical compounds; and; there will also be a decline in air quality and rise in concentrations of certain air pollutants which will also increase risk cancers[2].  

Whilst we are not suggesting that cancer, or breast cancer, will be, by any stretch of the imagination the worse impact of climate change, raising awareness that climate change may well increase our vulnerability diseases like cancer may help to dispel any illusions that those in the western world are “safe”. If anyone was ever in any doubt – we will all be affected by climate change. 

Moreover, as the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change point out in their report on Climate Change: Health Impacts and Opportunities[3], any of the drivers of climate change (e.g burning fossil fuels, air pollution and our dependence on motorised transport) are also large contributors to disease in the western world [including breast cancer].  So by taking action to mitigate these drivers, there can only be knock on benefits for public health.   

That’s why we’ve signed up to WHO’s Call to Action on Climate Change and the Doctors for Action Consensus statement because we believe that by working together prevention is possible and if we can help to prevent climate change and all that comes with it – we can certainly help to prevent breast cancer. 

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