Despite growing recognition of the climate crisis as a health crisis, we’re not yet seeing integrated action at scale and pace. With COP28 – and its dedicated ‘Health Day’ – fast approaching, the private sector is taking an opportunity to step up. Here Forum for the Future’s Climate and Health Coalition shares its hopes and expectations for the Conference. Read on for unique insights from Haleon, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Reckitt, Bayer and Bupa.

Recognition that the climate crisis is also a health crisis is rapidly growing. Take COP28 which – for the first time in its history – will have a dedicated ‘Health Day’. Or the World Health Organisation’s appointment  of Vanessa Kerry as its first ever Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health. Both point to the appreciation that human and planetary health are intricately connected and therefore should not (arguably cannot) be tackled in isolation.  

It’s a long overdue shift with real potential to galvanize efforts. Yet, as evidence of just how climate change adversely impacts human health builds, it’s not yet being met with ambitious action at the scale or pace neededGovernment and civil society will be critical in bridging the gap – so too is the private sector, whose global resources, influence, and ability to rapidly innovate uniquely positions it to step up and lead. 

Ahead of COP28, private sector leaders from Forum for the Future’s groundbreaking Climate and Health Coalition make a case for integrated action and share their expectations and hopes for the Conference.   

Climate and health: Sarah McDonald, Haleon’s Vice President, Sustainability explains how climate change impacts everyday human health  

Climate change and everyday health are deeply intertwined. As a leading consumer healthcare company, acting on these linkages is critical to delivering on Haleon’s purpose: to deliver better everyday heath with humanity. Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental threats to public health globally, accounting for c.7 million premature deaths every year. Air pollution and climate change are closely linked with the burning of fossil fuels – a key driver of both issues. Moving out of fossil fuels into clean, renewable energy is critical to tackling climate change and improving air quality.  

Every year, evidence mounts of the impact air pollution is having on human health, with 9/10 people worldwide breathing air that exceeds WHO safe limits. The impact on respiratory and cardiovascular health is clear and evidence continues to build of impacts on other aspects of health, including cognitive health.  It is also an issue of social justice, impacting vulnerable communities first and hardest.  

Businesses have a key role to play in improving air quality, and we are taking action, including decarbonising our own operations and wider value chain, as well as helping people to mitigate the impact of air pollution on their health. Through our respiratory brand, Otrivin, we launched the Actions to Breathe Cleaner programme, which teaches young people about the everyday actions they can take to minimise the health impacts of air pollution, such as changing their route to school to reduce exposure.  

Expectations from COP28: I’m hopeful that the Health Day at COP28 will act as an important catalyst for action that delivers co-benefits for the climate and people’s everyday health.

Health and inequity: Ornella Barra, Chief Operating Officer, International and Chair of the Environmental, Social and Governance Committee, Walgreens Boots Alliance highlights how climate change is compounding existing healthcare inequities 

As an integrated healthcare company serving millions of customers and patients every day, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) plays a critical role in the healthcare ecosystem. We also believe that climate change is caused by human activities and requires swift action by corporations to do our part in reducing our footprint. The impacts of climate change are being felt everywhere, and it is true to say that those who contribute least to the problem are by far the most adversely impacted. Recent years have created even greater healthcare inequities. For WBA, we firmly believe that we have a responsibility to break down this divide and improve fair access to affordable healthcare for all. 

Expectations from COP28: It is encouraging to see Health with a platform and focus at COP28. This is incredibly significant for WBA as a health-centred company. Climate change has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in our communities and we strive to provide affordable, accessible and quality health solutions for all. We hope this moment will galvanise greater action and awareness that the health of our people is inextricably linked to the health of our planet.

The climate crisis is also a health crisis: David Croft, Global Head of Sustainability at Reckitt makes a case for collectively addressing climate and health 

Climate change is creating an increasingly pressing health crisis. It is a crisis that makes climate change personal for everybody. While the world’s focus has naturally been on planetary change, the impact on peoples’ health and wellbeing cannot be understated. As we decarbonise, mitigate and adapt, we must also address the climate-health imperative. 

Reckitt’s brands and business help address some of the world’s biggest problems – problems like poor water, sanitation and hygiene and stretched healthcare systems. Problems that are exacerbated by climate change. We reach 30 million households every day with products that protect, heal and nurture as we strive for a cleaner, healthier world. We’re committed to reducing our carbon footprint and strengthening water resources. We’re connecting with people, supporting and enabling them to adapt and mitigate to protect both their own and the planet’s health. 

Expectations from COP28: Health is central to our action on climate change. COP28’s Health Day will reinforce essential health-focussed climate action and why climate change is personal to each of us. This nexus is where Reckitt, SMI, the Climate and Health Coalition, and business generally will play a key role. Through our brands and value chains, reaching people everywhere, enabling their health and hygiene, and helping combat climate change.

An opportunity for private sector to step up: Daniella Foster, Executive Board Member and Global Head of Public Affairs, Science and Sustainability for Bayer’s Consumer Health Division, points to the critical role of private sector in addressing the climate and health crisis 

The climate and health challenge and the urgency of its impact on populations requires a systems approach and an immediate scale-up for multi-stakeholder action. No single actor will be able to tackle the polycrisis we are currently facing, which will worsen without significant and collective action. 

As such, collaborations where industry and the private sector work alongside other relevant actors will result in the current siloed approach of addressing single health challenges evolving to a broader holistic approach to health. 

This will strengthen action on everyday preventative health and health management approaches ensuring systems are built around the needs of communities and are responsive and resilient to the current and future global health challenges. 

Expectations from COP28: We expect a clear message to come out of COP28 recognizing that the climate crisis is a health crisis, and for all relevant actors and sectors to commit publicly to ensure current and future generations have the opportunity to thrive, by aligning on priority areas for action. This will happen if the Climate and Health Coalition can achieve its aim to ensure that health is always part of every significant conversation about the climate.

A time for collective action: Glyn Richards, Group Director of Sustainability at Bupa calls for private sector collaboration to drive climate and health action 

Private sector organisations have a clear role, first and foremost, to reduce their own impact on the environment by decarbonising their operations in line with science-based targets to limit planetary warming by 1.5°C. 

The scale, urgency and complexity of the climate challenge also means that no one organisation can do this alone, and we need to collaborate with our peers to work together to transform the wider sector. 

By sharing learnings, ideas and influence, and working together, the private sector can amplify its impact, and use its influence and scale to increase advocacy for this agenda. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report tells us that public action could save 5% of ‘demand-side’ carbon emissions – highlighting a very clear opportunity for the private sector to leverage the power of their brands and storytelling to engage customers and consumers, and empower them to make sustainable choices that are good for their health, as well as the health of the planet. 

Expectations from COP28: This is the first COP with a dedicated ‘Health Day’, highlighting that health will be high on the agenda. We can expect a focus on building climate-friendly and resilient health systems, the advocacy role of the healthcare sector, and unlocking finance to address the health impacts of a changing climate.
There’s also an opportunity for local action in cities with city mayors reinforcing commitments to accelerate action towardsreducing emissions and creating healthy, climate resilient cities, to accelerate action on protecting and restoring nature, and for the climate community to come together and make what’s ethical, desirable – helping people make healthy and sustainable choices.

Why now is the time for the private sector actors to work with each other and also with non-private sector organisations: Dr Sally Uren, CEO, Forum for the Future  

The potential for impact of the Climate and Health Coalition to deliver accelerated positive impact at the intersection of climate and health comes from the fact that the current six partners have distinctive brands, assets, capabilities and market positioning in the health care system.  In turn, working together they have the potential to be more than the sum of their parts and not only deliver a strong and unified case for change, but also new approaches to the climate and health challenge which can only come from collaboration.  Expect more on this in 2024. 

While collaboration between private sector organisations within healthcare is a pre-requisite for systemic change in climate and health, we also need to see private sector collaboration across systems.  Ultimately, transformation of other systems, in particular our food system and our built environment, will determine whether the solutions we need to see for climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as equitable health outcomes will scale and deliver their full potential. 

In other words, we need to see action from the entire private sector.  This is why the Climate and Health Coalition so far has focused on the production of practical guidance and is looking forward to launch an updated digital version of this guidance at COP 28. 

The world is comprised of multiple and nested systems.  Which is why even though private sector collaboration is essential, collaboration between the private sector, the public sector, multi-lateral agencies and philanthropy is also critical. 

What are my expectations of COP?  That the private sector engages with the guidance and toolkit produced by the Climate and Health Coalition and we see a step-change in action at the intersection of climate and health, particularly outside of healthcare.  And, there is collaboration across the whole ecosystem, and we see co-ordination and collaboration between the private sector and non-private sector actors. 

About the Climate and Health Coalition: The Climate and Health Coalition is a multi-stakeholder initiative with a mission to mobilise and equip the private sector to play a key role in accelerating the transformation of our health and climate systems, towards outcomes that deliver benefits for both people and planet.   

The Coalition is facilitated by Forum for the Future and comprises Bayer, Bristol Myers Squibb, Bupa, Haleon, Reckitt and Walgreens Boots Alliance.