New York City Hosts Summit on Public Health and Climate Change

NEW YORK, New York, June 27, 2008 (ENS) – Government officials and policymakers from 30 cities meeting in New York City have spent the past two days considering urban public health issues related to global warming.

The “Public Health and Climate Change: The Urban Policy Connection” summit began Thursday at Columbia University, and continued today at City Hall.

The summit began with a keynote address by Mayor Bloomberg, exploring the connections linking efforts to control climate change to public health.

Mayor Bloomberg emphasized the responsibility of the world’s cities to address global warming even when national governments fail to act.

“The measures our cities take to shrink our carbon footprints have the additional, and in many cases immediate, benefit of dramatically improving the health of our citizens,” he said.

“A major new white paper based on research by our city’s Department of Health, Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability and Columbia University presents data on two of the most serious problems that are increasing in urban areas – air pollution and urban sprawl,” the mayor said.

Two panel discussions with public officials from Sao Paulo, New York, Toronto, Mexico City and Copenhagen focused on responses to urban public health challenges caused by climate change.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right,
hosts Nobel Laureate Dr. Rajendra
Pachauri during the summit on
Public Health and Climate Change.
(Photo courtesy Office of the Mayor)

The luncheon speaker was Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, who focused on the public health consequences of global warming as defined by the World Health Organization.

WHO identifies five major health consequences of climate change – malnutrition, death and disease from extreme weather events, intestinal disease from both scarcities of water and excess water, heatwaves, and infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. With rising temperatures and altered rainfall patterns, the geographical distribution of these diseases will change, spreading them to new countries while worsening the situation in existing countries.

In the afternoon, as well as on Friday morning, invited participants shared their expertise and experiences in developing and implementing plans for addressing these urban public health consequences of climate change.

The event was planned and hosted by the Mayor’s Office Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Columbia University, and New York City Global Partners.

Formerly known as the Sister City Program of the City of New York, Global Partners was created in 2006 with a more flexible structure to facilitate interaction with additional global cities. Its mission is to support the work of the Mayor’s Office in seeking creative solutions to municipal problems by sharing innovative programs and policies through conferences of high level policy makers and elected officials, site visits and Internet exchanges.

“The purpose of New York City Global Partners is to forge relationships among the world’s great cities and to promote cooperation by sharing best practices,” said Meyer Feldberg, the organization’s president, who also is a professor and dean emeritus at Columbia’s Business School.

“Through Global Partners the leadership of the world’s great cities has the opportunity to work together on their common agendas to ensure they will continue to be places that promote innovations in sustainability and improve public health,” Feldberg said.

Climate and public health experts at Columbia, many of whom are working with New York City agencies on climate change strategies as part of the Bloomberg administration’s PlaNYC, led several discussions during the summit.

Columbia Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin said, “With events like these, and with the ongoing contributions by our faculty and researchers to policymaking for New York, we are fulfilling both our own mission to use our intellectual and scientific expertise in addressing the vital questions facing our society – and also Mayor Bloomberg’s vision of a sustainable future for our city and for the world.”

Climate change research is conducted at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation.

The university recently launched the Columbia Climate Center to provide a hub for researchers whose work spans hydrology, oceanography, geophysics, economics, engineering and public health.

On Thursday, Global Partners [] launched its Innovation Exchange website to showcase best practices in the governance of global cities on a wide range of issues.

“Learning from other cities and sharing our best practices is just the kind of activity that strengthens New York City,” said Marjorie Tiven, commissioner of the City Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps and Protocol, and treasurer of Global Partners.

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