Jon Benjamin
Ambassador
British Embassy in Mexico City
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Expert Contributor

COP26 - The Health Initiatives

By Jon Benjamin | Wed, 01/19/2022 - 09:16

In November of last year, Glasgow hosted the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, also known as COP26. The United Kingdom served as president of the summit, gathering over 198 countries from around the world to discuss climate change, how to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, and ways in which we can drive adaptation and increase our global resilience to climate threats.

Healthcare is likely not the first thing to come to mind when thinking about climate change; however, climate is one of the greatest threats to public health, affecting air and water quality and food supply through the impact of foodborne diseases, extreme weather events and wildfires, as well as diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. A clear example can be seen in cities with high air pollution, where cases of asthma and other respiratory diseases have a higher prevalence.

Hence, as part of COP26, a specific health program is now in place to support UN member countries in the development and strengthening of sustainable, low-carbon and climate-resilient health systems. This, through the application of the best clinical practices and the adequate use of available resources.

The health impact of climate change tends to affect the most disadvantaged communities, increasing health inequalities. To protect these vulnerable populations, it is necessary to strengthen resilience to climate sensitive threats and build adaptive capacity to manage these risks. Doing so supports global health equality and the commitment to Universal Health Coverage, which is part of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Throughout COP26, five campaign aims were set to tackle climate change, and at the same time accelerate progress to a zero-emission economy:

  • Adaptation and resilience
  • Energy transition
  • Clean transport
  • Nature and ecosystems
  • Green finance

What this means for health is to create climate-resilient health systems that support food and water sanitation, ensure a rapid transition to clean renewable energy for health facilities, promote healthy and sustainable transport systems, protect and restore ecosystems for sustainable livelihoods, and invest in a climate resilient health system with zero carbon emissions. In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), the UNFCCC Climate Champions, and the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA), the COP26 Health Program was developed to enable transformational change in health systems globally, protecting both people and the planet.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of having reliable and effective health systems as the main line of defense to protect populations from emerging threats has been proven a crucial tool every government must have. It is essential for health systems to transform themselves, to understand their vulnerabilities and create the capacity to adapt to possible threats – all while being sustainable.

Governments, therefore, need to commit to conducting a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment, in order to develop a national adaptation plan and facilitate funding for climate change projects related to healthcare. At the same time, decarbonization is crucial to meet our ultimate goal of limiting global temperature increases. There is an extra bonus for us all; the sooner sustainable, low-carbon health systems are developed, the more cost-effective these systems can be.

While commitments to these goals should be led by governments across the world, we can all rise to the challenge and work together to ensure change and progress. We can and should demand strong action from our leaders, promote the creation of new policies and regulations that help mitigate and prevent climate change, and adapt our behaviors to protect public health through restoration of natural habitats and ecosystems.

Today is the day for action. In Mexico, the British Embassy has been collaborating with different healthcare companies in their transition to a lower carbon footprint, whether by phasing out the use of gas and diesel engines in their transport fleets, or by adopting greener energies for their buildings.

The world needs to unite and coordinate actions against climate change and to create a zero carbon, resilient and inclusive global economy. The benefits are evident and compelling, and our future generations – and their healthcare – depend on it.