Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Dec 04 2023
Health and Climate Change Converge at COP28

For the first time in its history, this year’s COP28 UN Climate Conference, taking place in Dubai, hosted a health day. The global conference has been held annually for nearly thirty years and has long focused on mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, including by facilitating historic commitments like the Paris Climate Accord of 2015.

In more recent years, the conversations around the intersection of health and climate change have grown to a buzz, and the inclusion of health on this year’s COP28 formal agenda is indication that leaders are ready for solutions. Of course, a solution must first be conceived.

“It’s essential that it’s on the agenda,” says Dr Farley Cleghorn, Palladium Global Head of Health. “But we don’t yet have a global framework for how we’ll tackle the problem, because it’s so wide ranging.”

COP28’s Health Day focused on five key topics, including showcasing the evidence base and clear impact pathways between climate change and human health; promoting "health arguments for climate action" and health co-benefits of mitigation; highlighting needs, barriers and best practices for strengthening climate resilience of health systems; identifying and scaling adaptation measures to address the impacts of climate change on human health (including through One Health); and taking action at the nexus of health and relief, recovery, and peace.

For Anthony Carrigan, Kyeema Foundation CEO, it was reassuring to see COP28 recognise the role and importance of One Health in addressing the issues facing the planet. "Given crisis-level food insecurity, particularly in the Horn of Africa, caused not just by conflict but by the increase of climate events, we need to see concepts such as One Health promoted and funded more aggressively."

While a single day doesn’t quite seem enough to tackle this list, it’s a start, and it truly reflects the multi-sectoral consequences of climate change. From air quality and extreme weather events like flooding and heatwaves, to changes in the way that vector-borne diseases like malaria spread, climate change has the potential to affect nearly every aspect of human health.

“It’s bad enough that these things are happening to our world, but when you consider the short- and long-term impact they have on human lives, health, and development, it becomes even more critical to find ways to tackle the problem,” Cleghorn adds.

Flooding caused by climate change across Pakistan in 2022 resulted in not only over 1700 deaths but displaced 8 million people, exposing them to disease, tainted water supplies, and subpar nutrition, pushing most if not all of them below the poverty line and reversing health gains the country had made in recent years. In addition, the flooding damaged health infrastructure, local hospitals, and clinics, and disrupted medical supply chains and essential health services.

This is just one of the many recent examples of climate change’s stark impact on health globally.

“While climate change is bad for the world it has terrible negative impacts on human health and wellbeing,” agrees Jay Gribble, Palladium Senior Technical Director of Health. “Whether we’re thinking about impact on maternal and neonatal mortality because of heat, or exposure because of floods and cyclones and weather events, or if we’re thinking about changes in diseases that bring new types of infections to different geographies, it’s critical to be considering climate impacts on health and incorporating that perspective into health policy and program planning.”

“We talk a lot about resilient health systems and this is a critical way that those systems need to be resilient,” Gribble explains. “Regardless of many ways that climate change is assaulting human health, systems need to prepare and decision makers need to recognise that a multisectoral response is needed--in addition to the efforts of those working in the health sector.”

As world leaders converge on Dubai, that multisectoral approach will be on full display and put to the test. And with events such as ‘how ambitious emission reductions can save lives’ and ‘mental health and climate change’, there were plenty of opportunities for leaders and decision-makers to weigh in, taking their seat at the table and making their voice heard on the increasingly intertwined sectors.

But for Carrigan and others, action is really what they're looking for as COP28 continues to unfold. "We can chip away from the community level up but, at the risk of ‘green-wishing’, for effective One Health action, we need COP28 to set meaningful regenerative agriculture targets and hold Governments and large-scale operators to account."

While Gribble is hopeful for the conference’s overall outcomes, he notes that health advocates must be pushing the agenda and conversation forward. “Because COP28 is largely focused on the planet rather than its inhabitants per se, health advocates need to continue raising the topic of climate change’s consequences for health, wellbeing, and quality of life.”

For more, read 'Palladium Employees Share Expectations for COP28' or contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com.