Health Systems to Benefit From Fight Against Climate ChangeBy Alfonso Núñez | Wed, 02/16/2022 - 11:03
Five years after the singing of the Paris Climate Agreement, the goal of limiting the increase in global warming below 2° C has not been reached. While healthcare is seldomly considered to be directly linked to climate change, the latter impacts numerous health indicators so it became one of the priority areas of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).
“Today, we are at a breaking point and immediate action is needed,” said Jon Benjamin, UK’s Ambassador to Mexico, during Mexico Health Summit 2022. Last November, the UK presided over COP26, which hosted over 200 countries from across the world to discuss best practices and work towards committing to limiting global warming to 1.5° C.
Climate change has a direct impact on public health because it affects air and water quality and food supply. In Mexico, for example, climate change has increased the number of areas where dengue fever has become endemic, affecting mainly the most disadvantaged communities and increasing health inequalities. As a commitment to these populations, every nation must adapt sustainable planning into its national healthcare system.
Benjamin discussed the responsibility countries worldwide have to implement sustainable practices as climate change is also a public health issue and must be addressed as such. Healthcare has been a fundamental value in the UK’s identity, explained Benjamin, as its national health service is considered one of the best worldwide. The country also is known for scientific breakthroughs in biomedical and health innovation. The incorporation of technology into the private or public national health system is fundamental but following COP26 these processes must be undertaken sustainably, said Benjamin.
A specific health program to support UN countries to strengthen these fronts through the adequate use of available resources was developed at COP26, including five campaign goals that aim to fight climate change and drive member countries closer to a zero-emission economy: adaptation and resilience, energy transition, clean transport, nature and ecosystems and green finance. This includes “Creating climate resilient health systems that support food and water sanitation ensuring a rapid transition to clean renewable energy for health’s facilities, promoting healthy and sustainable transport systems, protecting and restoring ecosystems to sustainable livelihoods and inventing a climate-resilient health system with zero carbon emissions,” said Benjamin.
The WHO, in partnership with Healthcare Without Harm, the UNFCCC Climate Champions and the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA), helped to develop the COP26 Health Program to enable transformational change in health systems globally. Governments need to commit to conducting a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment, develop a national adaptation plan and facilitate funding for climate change projects related to healthcare. Simultaneously, decarbonization is crucial to meet the committed goal of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5° C. The sooner these sustainable low carbon health systems are developed, Benjamin said, the more cost effective they can be.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of having reliable and effective health systems as the main line of events to protect populations from emerging threats. It is essential for health systems to transform themselves to understand their vulnerabilities and to create the capacity to adapt to possible threats, all while being sustainable,” said the ambassador.
Governments will lead these commitments by promoting new policies and regulations that help prevent climate change and all countries can participate in the adaptation of these changes. As Benjamin said: “the benefits are evident and compelling, and our future generations and their healthcare depend on it.”