SA among the worst carbon emitters - but best prepared for pollution health risks

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South Africa is leading the race among the world’s biggest emitters to tackle the health risks posed by climate change, according to a new study.

The world’s 14th-largest carbon emitter scored highest in terms of recognising the dangers of heat and air pollution, the Global Climate and Health Alliance said in a report on Tuesday. The study ranked 120 countries on how much they accounted for health impacts in their latest climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, also known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Countries have been under pressure to update their goals ahead of a United Nations conference in Glasgow that starts at the end of the month.

"South Africa’s high score shows that high emitting countries can and must integrate health into their climate commitments," said Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance. "G-20 countries must raise their collective ambition and lay the foundation for productive negotiations in Glasgow," she said, referring to the Group of 20, which account for 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is the biggest health threat that humanity faces as extreme weather events weaken healthcare systems where they are most needed, according a report published by the World Health Organization last week. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants NDCs to be raised as often as necessary until the world is on track to tackle climate-related health issues.

South Africa scored 12 out of a possible 15 for its health considerations, the report said, driven by its desire to launch early warning systems for climate-induced diseases. The country has also championed the right to a safe and healthy environment, as well as called for stringent pollution monitoring.

Brazil and Australia, which are among the world’s biggest emitters, both scored zero on their NDCs. Meanwhile, the European Union, which represents 27 nations, only met one of the 15 metrics. Those countries failed to strengthen health systems to cope with added climate burdens, and didn’t adequately acknowledge extra economic and financial needs, the report said.

China and India, which represent a third of the world’s population and produce almost 31% of global emissions, failed to submit updated NDCs.

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