A group of 50 countries have committed to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), in response to growing evidence of the impact of climate change on people’s health.
The governments of these 50 countries, which include some of those most vulnerable to the health harms caused by climate change as well as some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, have committed to take concrete steps towards creating climate-resilient health systems.
Forty-five of these countries have also committed to transform their health systems to be more sustainable and low-carbon. Fourteen have set a target date to reach net zero carbon emissions on or before 2050.
The commitments were made as part of the COP26 Health Programme, a partnership between the UK government, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Climate Champions and health groups, such as Health Care Without Harm.
“The future of health must be built on health systems that are resilient to the impacts of epidemics, pandemics and other emergencies, but also to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and the increasing burden of various diseases related to air pollution and our warming planet,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
“Health systems must also be part of the solution, by reducing carbon emissions. We applaud those countries that have committed to building climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems, and we hope to see many others following their lead in the near future.”
Countries that have committed to achieving low-carbon, sustainable health systems include Argentina, Fiji, Malawi, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America and 39 others. Countries that have committed to enhance the climate resilience of their health systems include Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Maldives, the Netherlands, and 45 others.
The government of Fiji, for example, is responding to the increase in cyclones, flash floods, and rising sea levels causing lack of drinking water due to saltwater intrusion, by building more climate-resilient health infrastructure, strengthening the health workforce, and providing health care facilities with sustainable energy services.
“The message from WHO and health professionals around the globe is clear: climate change is a huge health challenge and we need to act now. I’m really pleased to see so many countries prioritising this issue through the COP26 Health Programme and their level of ambition. Strong leadership from the health sector is vital to make sure we protect our populations from the impacts of climate change by enhancing the climate resilience of health systems, and by reducing emissions from the health sector,” said Wendy Morton, Minister for Europe and Americas, in the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
The country commitments come off the back of a WHO survey, launched this week, which shows that the majority of countries now include health in their national climate plans to the Paris Agreement, but that plans often still lack detailed health actions or support mechanisms.
“These government commitments exemplify the growing global health movement for climate action. Around the world doctors, nurses, hospitals, health systems and ministries of health are reducing their climate footprint, becoming more resilient and advocating for a just transition that puts health at the centre of a decarbonized civilization,” said Josh Karliner, International Director of Program and Strategy of Health Care Without Harm.
In addition to the national commitments, 54 institutions from 21 countries representing more than 14,000 hospitals and health centres have joined the UNFCCC Race to Zero and committed to achieving net zero emissions.
A record number of health leaders are participating at the COP26 UN climate conference, and more than 45 million health professionals, representing two thirds of the world’s health workforce, have signed a letter urging governments to take stronger action, noting that “hospitals, clinics and communities around the world have already been responding to the health harms caused by climate change”.
About the COP26 Health Programme
Health was selected as one of three science priority areas for COP26 by the UK government. As part of the COP26 Health Programme, the COP26 Presidency is working alongside WHO, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and the UNFCCC Climate Champions to engage countries and stakeholders on climate and health.
The COP26 Health Programme has been established to bring stronger health focus and ambition to COP26. Initiatives under the COP26 Health Programme include:
· Building climate resilient health systems.
· Developing low carbon sustainable health systems.
· Adaptation Research for Health.
· The inclusion of health priorities in Nationally Determined Contributions.
· Raising the voice of health professionals as advocates for stronger ambition on climate change.
Under the COP26 Health Programme’s first commitment area, countries have committed to conducting climate change and health vulnerability assessments, and to develop national adaptation plans for health.
Under the programme’s second commitment area, high ambition/high emitter countries commit to setting a target date by which to achieve net zero emissions health systems and develop an action plan or roadmap to achieve sustainable, low carbon health systems.
The latter is significant to global mitigation efforts: the health sector accounts for 10% of global GDP and is a substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for around 4.6%.
A list of all country commitments will be available on the WHO website, here.
The countries that have joined the COP26 Health Programme include:
Central African Republic
Sao Tome and Principe
United Arab Emirates
United States of America
“The health co-benefits from climate actions are well evidenced and offer a strong argument for transformative changes.” Director of Public Health, Dr. Morenike Alex-Okoh, MoH, Nigeria.
“The government of Malawi recognizes the essential role of the health sector to ensure a successful COP26, and has committed to strengthen the climate resilience of its health systems, while developing low carbon health systems… as a way of contributing to the targets of the Paris Agreement,” Hon. Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Minister of Health, Malawi.
"The climate change extreme effects and damages on the public health of Sao Tome and Principe population, require urgent multisectoral integrated measures and actions alongside the communities engagement with partners, to be low carbon ensuring and to increase the resilience, both on the National Health System" - Edgar Manuel Agostinho Azevedo das Neves, Health Minister, Sao Tome and Principe.
“In the midst of the pandemic, we had to recover from extreme weather events and manage the resulting health impacts. [It] has shown us that health systems and facilities are the main line of defense in protecting populations from emerging threats … and that now is the time to increase our commitment to a safer, and more sustainable and inclusive future for all.” Hon. Ifereimi Waqainabete, Minister for Health and Medical Services, Fiji.
“This commitment is an important step for us to continue ongoing efforts and speed up the implementation of the adaptation and mitigation actions” Phonepaseuth Ounaphom, Director Department of Hygiene and Health Promotion, Ministry of Health, Lao PDR.
“The Maldives Health Sector is fully committed to executing the National Green Climate Smart Hospital Policy and Strategy to establish a climate change resilient health system with environment friendly technologies resulting in energy efficient services and a low-carbon footprint.” Ahmed Naseem, Minister of Health, Maldives.
“Ministry of Health and Prevention, in partnership with WHO, launched a comprehensive, multisectoral National Framework for Action on Climate Change and Health to develop sector-specific adaptation plan. UAE is also working towards reducing emissions and developing an action plan for a low-carbon health system” HE Dr. Hussain Abdulrahman Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary for Public Health, Ministry of Health and Prevention, United Arab Emirates.
“Climate change is a health crisis of recent times in Nepal and a moral issue as per the fundamental rights of Nepalese people to enjoy good health. Enhancement of climate resilience and environmental sustainability of health services and facilities, and commitment to act together in building climate resilient health systems are imperative to minimize the impacts of climate change on health.”– Dr. Samir Kumar Adhikari, Chief of Multisectoral Coordination, Ministry of Health and Population, Nepal.