WHO manifesto calls for end to fossil fuel subsidies in Covid-19 recovery

(Photo: WHO)

WHO has issued its boldest statement to date about the emerging links between the poor health of the planet and the Covid-19 pandemic besetting humans.

The WHO announcement of its Health Recovery Manifesto, coincided with the European Union’s unveiling of a €750 billion Covid-19 recovery plan with a green investment edge, dubbed Next Generation EU.

Why is this important?

The six WHO-endorsed manifesto principles include oft-repeated calls for healthier cities, food systems, and clean water.  However, WHO’s blunt call to governments to “stop using taxpayers money to fund pollution” steps out of the Organization’s traditional comfort zone with a simple, action-oriented appeal. 

The WHO manifesto also calls for an end to biodiversity destruction and the “unsafe management and consumption of wildlife”. These activities, the organization notes, lead to the transmission of deadly animal pathogens to humans, such as the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, and thus “increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases.”  Stepping out of the hospital and into the wild to explain how deforestation and wild animal capture and consumption can drive pandemic risks is also new territory for the Organization.

“Stop using taxpayers’money to fund pollution”

But it is WHO’s message on fossil fuels that is sure to ring most loudly in the ears of the leaders of the world’s most industrialized economies when the G7 Summit (Group of 7) convenes in June - and from there to some large corporate boardrooms. Here, WHO, the arbiter of what is good for global health, has declared that taxpayers should not be forced to subsidized fuels that are killing the planet and generating pollution that makes people ill. The manifest plainly states this:

“Financial reform will be unavoidable in recovering from COVID-19, and a good place to start is with fossil fuel subsidies.

“Globally, about US$ 400 billion every year of taxpayers money is spent directly subsidizing the fossil fuels that are driving climate change and causing air pollution…. Including the damage to health and the environment that they cause, brings the real value of the subsidy to over US$ 5 trillion per year-  more than all governments around the world spend on healthcare – and about 2,000 times the budget of WHO.

“Placing a price on polluting fuels in line with the damage they cause would approximately halve outdoor air pollution deaths, cut greenhouse gas emissions by over a quarter, and raise about 4% of global GDP in revenue. We should stop paying the pollution bill, both through our pockets and our lungs.”

New Swiss-based WHO Foundation Created

The bold WHO statement on halting support for fossil fuels is likely to further rile US President Donald Trump, who recently halted support to the Organization, saying that its Covid-19 response had been too “China-centric”. Although it’s hardly likely Beijing will smile at the WHO statements either; China is still investing heavily in coal power production at home and abroad.

But on Wednesday, it seemed that WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had one more emerging answer to WHO’s financial woes as well. It came in the form of a new Swiss-based “WHO Foundation”, also announced at the WHO press briefing.

Headed by former Swiss Secretary of State for Health, Thomas Zeltner, the Swiss-registered non-profit will be able to legally raise funding for WHO from public donations, complementing the contributions of member states, bilateral aid agencies and philanthropies - which are often earmarked for specific purposes. Said Zeltner:

“The creation of the foundation represents a truly innovative approach to diversify WHO’s resource mobilization strategy. This new approach is clearly an urgent need.”

Health Policy Watch - Bold new WHO manifesto calls for low carbon COVID-19 Recovery; European Union unveils €750 billion stimulus package