The Shire Reeve's Tale: 11

Yesterday,as High Sheriff of Belfast and Chairman of Belfast City Council Health and Environmental Services Committee I accompanied my Director, Suzanne Wylie and our European Manager Laura Leonard to a major Conference in City Hall to address climate change and sustainable development.

The `Sustainable Communities Conference – Making the Global Local` was organised by Belfast City Council in partnership with a range of statutory and voluntary agencies, including Belfast Healthy Cities, Business Services Organisation, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Met Office, the Public Health Agency and the University of Ulster.

The conference in the City Hall brought together professionals and experts from these organisations to examine how climate change affects local communities as well as the impact it has both regionally and locally.

Chaired by economist and journalist John Simpson, speakers at the conference included Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University London and Commissioner with the Sustainable Development Commission; Alex Hill, Chief Government Advisor, Scotland and Northern Ireland for the Met Office and Tony Juniper, Writer and Sustainability Advisor.

A number of workshops took place during the day looking at the positive synergies between good public transport and health; emergency planning – the lessons to be learned from dealing with extreme weather events and looking ahead to future challenges as well as spatial and land use planning – setting the scene for healthy sustainable communities.

The workshops also addressed topics such as fuel and food poverty; building a new sustainable economy for Northern Ireland and the role of public health professionals in dealing with climate change and sustainability.

As Chairman of Belfast City Council`s Health and Environmental Services Committee, I said: “The Sustainable Communities Conference – Making the Local Global will raise awareness and increase understanding of climate change whilst also looking at its economic, social and environmental impacts.

“We also know that it is important for organisations in Northern Ireland to work together to address the impacts of climate change and sustainable development and this conference will be a first step towards achieving this.”

Dr Carolyn Harper, Director of Public Health for Northern Ireland, said: “A sustainable community is a healthy community. The Public Health Agency is committed to becoming a sustainable organisation. This is not only because it is the right thing to do but because it also makes economic sense by saving money and potentially creating new jobs here.”

Gary McFarlane, Director of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: “Through this conference we want to gain long term commitment from all stakeholders and instil a better understanding of the critical connections and synergies between our environment, economy and wellbeing.

“We are currently facing a number of public health threats and challenges and we see it as a top priority working alongside others, with a collaborative approach to respond to these. The conference will aim to assist individuals in identifying opportunities within their existing settings and roles in order to contribute towards more sustainable communities in Northern Ireland.”

Joan Devlin, Director Belfast Healthy Cities, said: “Extreme weather events, floods and higher temperatures can very directly affect people's physical as well as mental health and wellbeing. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that climate change will be the defining issue for health systems in the 21st century. We hope this conference will strengthen the information and knowledge base and create increased understanding of the health equity implications of climate change across sectors and society”.

Alex Hill, Met Office Chief Government Advisor, Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: “The Met Office is delighted to be involved in this initiative helping the City of Belfast and the whole of Northern Ireland develop a more sustainable community and to face the challenges that climate change will inevitably bring.”

Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer, said: “Everybody wants good health and a good environment for themselves, their families and for future generations. Working towards these goals is at the heart of sustainable development. What is required now is the energy, enthusiasm and leadership to prevent unmanageable climate change and to prepare to deal with a number of health consequences that may follow.”

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