Urgent Action on Climate and Health at COP28 – As the world gears up for COP28, the WHO and the global health community are calling for health to be at the heart of the negotiations. Climate change’s impact on health must be at the centre of the negotiations. It’s time to shift the conversation from climate change to human health.
There can’t be any room for complacency here, and it’s time for negotiators to acknowledge that they are responsible for the health of our most valuable resource: the health of people around the world.
“Prioritizing health is not just a choice; it is the foundation of resilient societies,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Leaders must deliver in Dubai, providing the strong health outcomes their peoples expect and their economies urgently need. We must change the conversation and demonstrate the massive benefits of bolder climate action on our health and well-being.”
The extreme weather events around the world in recent months offer a terrifying glimpse of what lies ahead in a rapidly heating world. The IPCC report says about 3.5 billion people – nearly half of humanity – live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change. Heat-related deaths among those aged over 65 years have risen by 70% worldwide in two decades, according to WHO’s figures. Only a dramatic and dedicated effort to limit warming to 1.5 °C will prevent a future much worse than what we see now.
Extreme weather events such as drought, floods, and heatwaves will become more frequent and severe, putting healthcare infrastructure under greater strain. Last year’s floods in Pakistan forced 8 million people out of their homes and affected a total of 33 million people. The World Bank predicts that climate change could lead to around 216 million people displaced worldwide by 2050 unless bold and urgent action is taken.
The health crisis is putting millions of lives at risk, while global food systems are struggling to feed a growing population and water sources are compromised. Climate change is also accelerating the spread of infectious diseases such as dengue, cholera and other diseases, putting millions at risk. It’s time to take decisive and concerted action to reduce the health impact of climate change and create a more sustainable future.
As climate change continues to wreak havoc on health systems around the world, it’s essential that we build resilience, reduce carbon emissions and become more sustainable. If we don’t act now, health systems around the globe will be exposed to the devastating effects of climate change for years to come.
The health community argues that climate change already threatens our health, as it accelerates the transmission of diseases and vectors. There’s no denying that climate change threatens global health on multiple levels. Climate change is not an abstraction; it’s a reality. Negotiators need to understand that climate change cannot be ignored or minimized any longer.
Adapting our health systems means upgrading key interventions such as vector control, epidemiological surveillance, and access to safe water and sanitation. Additionally, the training of health staff is crucial, and support is needed to align health systems with the guidance included in WHO’s operational framework for building climate resilient and low carbon health systems.
To reduce the negative impact on health, the health community stresses the importance of reducing and stopping emissions. According to WHO, 7 million premature deaths annually are attributed to air pollution. Urgent mitigation measures, including transitioning to clean energy sources, are necessary to protect human health and create sustainable outcomes.
The health community recognizes the role health systems play in contributing to emissions, and advocates for greening the health sector. This involves decarbonizing health systems, digitalizing medicine and implementing sustainable practices in hospitals and health-care facilities to significantly reduce the 5% global emissions attributed to the health sector.
Over 1 billion people worldwide are served by health-care facilities with unreliable electricity or no electricity at all. For low-income countries lacking access to electricity, the health community calls for an acceleration of access to clean energy. WHO is working with partners to accelerate electrification of health-care facilities through renewable energies and to harmonize medical supplies and lead a transformative change towards cleaner energy sources, better services and reduced reliance on diesel and gas.
Recognizing the financial disparity in health systems
Acknowledging the financial gap in health systems, the health community calls for increased financing from new sources. The plea is to divest from and end subsidies for fossil fuels, and to mobilize new funds to support health systems in coping with climate change.
The WHO-led Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH) is dedicated to realizing the goals set at COP26 by leveraging the collective influence of WHO Member States and stakeholders to advance climate-resilient health systems. ATACH also focuses on identifying financing needs.
With the health sector grappling with unprecedented challenges, it is imperative to address the glaring disparity in financial support. Currently, the sector receives a mere 0.5% of global climate financing. To effectively confront the many challenges ahead – from the ongoing global health crisis to the ever-evolving landscape of medical research and technological advancements – a substantial increase in resources is not only warranted but essential. By multiplying financial support, we can strengthen the sector’s ability to innovate, adapt and provide optimal care, ensuring a resilient healthcare infrastructure for the challenges of today and the uncertainties of tomorrow.
WHO urgent call for climate and health action at COP28
As the world unites at COP28, the health community calls for decisive action. We urge negotiators to recognize that climate action is health action, and failure to address this reality will have profound consequences for the well-being of current and future generations.
The WHO call to action unites the health community in demanding a commitment to building resilient health systems, reducing emissions, and prioritizing health. The first-ever Health Day is set to elevate the global profile of the climate and health nexus and integrate health within the climate change agenda.
Health Day and Ministerial Session
The first-ever Health Day is set to elevate the global profile of the climate and health nexus and integrate health within the climate change agenda. For the very first time, a record number of health ministers will be attending COP28. The presence of a significant number of health ministers underscores the commitment to prioritize health in the context of climate discussions and reinforces our commitment to creating a healthier and more sustainable future. The Ministerial session promises to amplify the urgency for action by bringing together global leaders to implement sustainable solutions. This historic gathering will focus on addressing the crucial intersection of health and climate change.
The legacy of COP 28 will be a commitment to a healthier planet, where the health arguments for climate action are not just heard but lead to tangible results.