Ahead of COP28, the World Health Organization (WHO), together with the global health community, is raising its voice to ensure that the impact of climate change on health is at the heart of negotiations. It is imperative to broaden the focus to human health in global discussions, leaving no room for excuses, and forcing negotiators to recognize that they bear responsibility for the well-being of our most valuable asset: the health of populations worldwide.
“Prioritizing health is not just a choice; it is the foundation of resilient societies,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “Leaders must deliver in Dubai and deliver the strong health outcomes that their people expect and that their economies urgently need. We need to change the conversation and demonstrate the enormous benefits of stronger climate action for 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 warming world. According to the IPCC report, approximately 3.5 billion people – almost half of humanity – live in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change. According to WHO figures, the number of heat-related deaths among people over 65 worldwide has increased by 70% over the past twenty years. Only a dramatic and committed effort to limit warming to 1.5°C can prevent a future far worse than what we see now.
Increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and heat waves, will also put pressure on healthcare infrastructure. Last year’s floods in Pakistan displaced 8 million people and affected a total of 33 million. World Bank forecasts indicate that without bold and immediate action, climate change could displace approximately 216 million people by 2050.
As the climate crisis puts lives and livelihoods at risk, global food systems are struggling to sustain a growing population, and compromised water sources are exacerbating the challenges. At the same time, climate change is catalyzing a wave of infectious diseases such as dengue and cholera, putting millions of people at risk. Now is the time for decisive and concerted action to mitigate the health impacts of the climate crisis and build a sustainable future for all.
As climate change poses an unprecedented challenge to healthcare systems worldwide, it is also imperative that we strengthen our systems to be resilient, low-carbon and sustainable. Without urgent action, healthcare systems worldwide will become vulnerable to the overwhelming impacts of climate change.
Climate change is not a distant threat; it is a current danger that affects our health on several fronts. The health community claims that climate change is already impacting our health and contributing to the spread of infectious and vector-borne diseases. There is an urgent need for negotiators to understand that climate change is a direct threat to global health that can no longer be ignored or downplayed.
Adapting our healthcare systems means upgrading key interventions such as vector control, epidemiological surveillance and access to safe water and sanitation. Furthermore, training of healthcare workers is crucial, and support is needed to align healthcare systems with the guidelines set out in the WHO Operational Framework for Building Climate Resilient and Low Carbon Healthcare Systems.
To reduce negative health impacts, the health community emphasizes the importance of reducing and stopping emissions. According to the WHO, 7 million premature deaths are attributed to air pollution every year. Urgent mitigation measures, including the transition to clean energy sources, are necessary to protect human health and create sustainable outcomes.
The healthcare community recognizes the role healthcare systems play in contributing to emissions and is advocating for greening the healthcare sector. This includes decarbonizing healthcare systems, digitalizing medicine and implementing sustainable practices in hospitals and healthcare facilities to significantly reduce the 5% global emissions attributed to healthcare.
More than 1 billion people worldwide are served by healthcare facilities with unreliable electricity or no electricity at all. For low-income countries without access to electricity, the health community is calling for an acceleration of access to clean energy. WHO is working with partners to accelerate the electrification of healthcare facilities through renewable energies and harmonize medical supplies and lead a transformative change towards cleaner energy sources, better services and reduced dependence on diesel and gas.
Recognizing financial inequality in healthcare systems
The healthcare community recognizes the financial gap in healthcare systems and is calling for more funding from new sources. The plea is to divest and end fossil fuel subsidies, and mobilize new funds to support healthcare systems in dealing with climate change.
The WHO-led Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH) is committed to achieving the goals of COP26 by leveraging the collective influence of WHO Member States and stakeholders to promote climate-resilient healthcare systems. ATACH also focuses on identifying financing needs.
As the healthcare industry grapples with unprecedented challenges, it is imperative to address the glaring disparity in financial support. Currently, the sector receives only 0.5% of global climate finance. To effectively address 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 capacity to innovate, adapt and deliver optimal care, ensuring a resilient healthcare infrastructure for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s uncertainties.
WHO urgent call for climate and health action at COP28
As the world unites at COP28, the health community is calling for decisive action. We urge negotiators to recognize that climate action is health action, and that 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 healthcare community in demanding a commitment to building resilient healthcare systems, reducing emissions and prioritizing health. The first ever Health Day will raise the global profile of the climate-health link and integrate health into the climate change agenda.
Health Day and Ministerial Session
The first ever Health Day will raise the global profile of the climate-health link and integrate health into the climate change agenda. For the first time ever, a record number of health ministers will attend COP28. The presence of a significant number of Health Ministers underlines the commitment to prioritizing health in the context of climate discussions and strengthens our commitment to creating a healthier and more sustainable future. The ministerial session promises to increase the urgency for action by bringing together world leaders to implement sustainable solutions. This historic meeting 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 only heard, but lead to tangible results.