COP28 - A turning point for climate and health?
Health is taking centre stage at COP for the first time. Here are five key areas I would like to see prioritised.
The 28th session of the Conference of Parties (COP28) starts on 30th November 2023 and will continue to December 12th.
COP is the biggest multilateral forum on climate change, with decision-making powers and representatives from all member nations.
This years COP has particular significance as it will review the first global stocktake of progress toward the Paris Climate Change Agreement goals, and determine the responses. It is already obvious that progress has fallen short, we are not close to where we said we would be, or where we need to be.
At COP28 we must acknowledge, accept and learn from the failings, decide how we must change, and move forward. Fast.
COP28 Health Day
COP28 is also significant as it the first time health has a dedicated focus. December 3rd is Health Day, and has been organised in collaboration with WHO, the Wellcome Trust, and many partners.
The main goal of Health Day is to raise awareness of the severe impacts of climate change on human health. It also aims to provide a platform to discuss the mitigation and adaptation solutions needed to ensure health and well-being.
These goals are equally daunting and doable. Daunting because there is so much that needs to be done, doable because there is so much that can be done.
Here, I have outlined five priority areas.
1. A global health adaptation fund
Health is often the last priority in climate adaptation efforts, receiving only 0.5% of adaptation financing. A dedicated fund for health adaptation could help close this gap and support countries and communities to build sustainable, resilient and equitable health systems. The health systems we will need to cope with the health impacts of climate change.
2. A global commitment to net zero health systems
The healthcare sector is responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions. If the global healthcare sector was a country a 2019 study estimated it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
The Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health includes 75 countries working towards building climate resilient and sustainable health systems. Many countries have started to set targets, but very few have made binding commitments with clear roadmaps to reach net zero. We need to increase health sector engagement, commitment, and action.
3. A coordinated global research program
Many aspects of human health are affected by climate change, but the evidence and data are still limited and fragmented. Federation of existing research and data would be invaluable, as would globally coordinated research programs to provide timely, reliable information on the health impacts of climate change. This is essential for the design of effective strategies and solutions.
4. A universal health coverage pledge
Universal health coverage is a key predictor of national adaptation capacity and vital for health equity. UHC should be the backbone of climate and health strategies. Alignment of climate-health interventions with the Sustainable Development Goal to achieve universal health coverage by 2030 would be a powerful statement, with potential to catalyse action towards both ambitions.
5. A health-in-all-policies approach
Health is not only a sector, it is a foundational, cross-cutting issue that affects and is affected by many other sectors, such as energy, transportation, agriculture, and industry. A health-in-all-policies approach means integrating health considerations into all policies and actions that have an impact on climate change and vice versa. This would help maximise the many health co-benefits of climate action and minimise the trade-offs and conflicts.
A health-in-all-policies approach will help maximise the many health co-benefits of climate action and minimise the trade-offs.
COP28 Health Day is an opportunity to put health at the centre of climate action and to mobilise the health community for climate action. If done right, it could be the start of a new era where health is a key driver and outcome of every COP and every climate discussion.
Let’s make it happen.