A Climate and Health Diagnosis: Five Takeaways
Panelists at the Adapt Now event discuss climate and health
The climate crisis is a health crisis. We are many years into its impact on people’s health in countries at the sharp end of a warming climate. Yet the dire implications of the climate crisis for public health has, until now, attracted relatively little global attention. This, fortunately, is beginning to change. In October, the World Health Summit in Berlin will focus on health and climate, and in November, the UN”s Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in Dubai will convene its first ever health and climate day.
At the WHO Foundation we are passionate about the need to invest to protect people’s health in the face of the climate crisis – equitably and urgently.
We’ve prepared five quick takeaways on the climate and health crisis, inspired by powerful contributions at the Time to Adapt event organized by Foreign Policy, Foundation S and the Africa-Europe Foundation during UN General Assembly week.
1. Our Health is Already Suffering
“Climate change has become our biggest health crisis.” Vanina Laurent-Vedru, Director General, Sanofi Foundation S
“People are dying every day from climate change.” Dr Vanessa Kerry, WHO Special Envoy on Climate and Health
The climate crisis is propelling heat-exhausted people to seek medical care in cities unprepared to withstand extreme temperatures. It is forcing farmers to leave land they had cultivated for decades in search of food aid. It is accelerating malnutrition and increasing the incidence of waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, and diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya, and zika. Emergencies are increasing in number: in Libya just over two weeks ago, super-charged storms precipitated the flooding that washed 20,000 people out to sea, and left tens of thousands of people without health facilities and facing contaminated water supplies.
Behind the headlines, an estimated 12 million people in the greater Horn of Africa are suffering acute malnutrition and nearly 3 million children in 2023 are in need of medical care for life-threatening, hunger-related conditions.
WHO predicts 250,000 additional deaths a year due to climate change, an estimate that could well prove to be conservative.
2. Solutions Exist. They Need to be Scaled up.
“One of the challenges is to go to scale, we cannot resolve the problem of climate and its impact on health at the level of a village, we need to do it everywhere it’s needed.” Prof. Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Minister of State, Senegal
People affected by extreme weather can find ways to adapt and protect their health, if the resources and the infrastructure are in place. Tried and tested public health measures can prevent and treat diseases. Investing in, and scaling up, affordable, climate-resilient health measures will save many lives.
WHO’s investment case shows that every dollar invested in WHO can generate at least $35 in return, while studies from the Brookings Institute suggest that countries can double or even quadruple their returns for every dollar invested in health.
3. ‘Big Bet’ Philanthropy Can Move the Dial
“Consider this. people in the US spend four times that on digital entertainment alone.” Vanina Laurent-Vedru, Director General, Sanofi Foundation S, commenting on the 11 billion US dollars pledged so far to help countries adapt to extreme weather
“We need the resources to be flexible, not resources that take two years to write a proposal. ” Prof. Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Minister of State, Senegal
The climate and health situation is urgent. Where governments are unwilling or unable, philanthropists can make the ‘big bets’ on new initiatives, provide growth capital and invest in innovations that can protect people against the health effects of extreme weather.
4. It’s the Right Thing to Do
“The climate crisis is an opportunity for us to … pay the debt back to the very places where the resources have been extracted.” Anil Soni, CEO, WHO Foundation
It’s a matter of justice. People whose health stands to suffer most from the climate crisis have benefited least from industrialization and have contributed least to global emissions.
5. There’s No Such Thing as Too Ambitious for this Moment
“It’s an emergency. We need to ensure that people cannot say ‘we didn’t know we could help’.” Prof. Awa Marie Coll-Sec, Minister of State, Senegal
WHO Foundation’s Climate and Health Initiatives
The Health Emergencies Alliance provides stable funding for the rising number of health emergencies around the world, including those driven by climate change.
Solarization of Health Facilities: Together with WHO and donors, the Foundation is developing partnerships to supply sustainable electricity to health facilities through solar power.
Innovative Financing for Health in the Climate Crisis: Impact investment can help to seed businesses and innovations that improve health in places that need to improve their resilience against climate change.
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