How can the public health community support litigation to protect public health in the context of climate change and other environmental threats to health?
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UK Faculty of Public Health, United Kingdom
University of Southampton School of Medicine, United Kingdom
Aletta Jacob School of Public Health, Netherlands
Groningen Centre for Health Law, The Netherlands
Publication date: 2023-04-27
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A226
Outline: Climate change and environmental health are important cross-cutting issues to address within the public health sector. Encouraged by wins on asbestos and against big tobacco, the public health community and environmental advocates are turning to litigation to sue governments and private sector interests for public health harms from environmental pollution and climate change. Climate litigation can be supported using essential public health functions while simultaneously raising awareness about the health impacts on planetary health. Increasingly, climate cases submitted to courts include a focus on health. Yet there remains a lack of awareness and training among the public health community. In October 2021 the European public health association (EUPHA-law) co-hosted a webinar on public health, climate change and strategic litigation which highlighted how strategic partnerships between public health practitioners, environmental advocates, legal experts and affected communities are needed. In response to this, the UK faculty of public health, EUPHA-law, and the Groningen Centre for health law (in collaboration with lancet countdown, Greenpeace, and other stakeholders) will publish a toolkit for public health practitioners on supporting litigation to protect public health in the context of climate change and other environmental threats to health. The toolkit will answer common questions from public health practitioners: legal systems are as varied as health systems, yet there are principles common to all jurisdictions. In particular, the choice of legal forum is key: which court is best placed to hear a given case? Who can initiate legal proceedings? What is the most suitable legal basis for the claim? It could be under a national constitutional protection of the right to life, a human rights treaty, or environmental or tort law. And, what evidence is required and what evidential standard should be met? Workshop Aim: The workshop will provide an overview of how the public health community can better support climate change litigation. Sound scientific evidence is as critical to successful litigation as to effective public health policies. Increasingly, public health practitioners are asked to testify in court about the known health impacts of environmental threats. Collecting this evidence requires foresight, meticulous record-keeping, peer support, and the courage to withstand questioning of professional capacity. The workshop will provide an overview of the toolkit content and its proposed uses, building on collaboration with environmental and legal organisations. Opportunities to engage with public health practitioners in the global south will be explored. Participant feedback will be welcomed. The key questions that the workshop will address the workshop will address three key questions: 1) how can the public health competencies be strengthened to understand and support climate change litigation 2) what essential public health functions can contribute to litigation in the context of climate change and other environmental threats to health?, and 3) how can public health professionals work better with lawyers and communities to protect population health in the context of climate change?
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