With COP28 featuring its first dedicated Health Day in 2023, there is increasing acceptance that our climate crisis is also a health crisis. This means that positive action taken on climate mitigation and adaptation can also lead to positive outcomes for human health. Recognising the urgent need to move from making the case for integrated action on climate and health, to actually taking action, as well as recognising the hugely important role of the private sector in delivering co-benefits for climate and health, Hannah Pathak (Forum’s International Managing Director) and Sally Uren (Forum’s Chief Executive), who co-direct the Climate and Health Coalition, share a summary of recent guidance designed to enable the private sector to deliver action on two of the most pressing challenges of our time.  

COP28 in Dubai was the first COP to host a dedicated health day – a key sign of the mainstreaming of acceptance and understanding that the climate crisis is a health crisis. At an individual level, health is where climate change is experienced – in the emissions-filled air that we breathe, in the extreme heat that sees workers falling sick, and in the weather events that, at best, disrupt and, at worst, destroy lives, homes, infrastructure and patterns of life.  

2023 was the hottest year on record. Droughts in the Amazon River basin, wildfires in Greece and Hawaii, violent storms in Libya, and record ocean temperatures are just a few of the impacts of climate change last year. The Lancet Countdown report 2023 underscores that the climate crisis is simultaneously a crisis of health, nature and equality. The urgent call for rapid climate change mitigation through decarbonisation is highlighted as arguably also the single biggest global health intervention. 

At the World Economic Forum at Davos this January, some of the human and economic costs of this were spelled out: an additional 14.5 million deaths, $12.5 trillion in economic losses, and $1.1 trillion in additional costs to healthcare systems by 2050.  

Accentuating the interconnectedness of climate and health and making the case for change is a huge step forward, but as Professor Sharon Friel comments in The Lancet, “the time for describing threats is over. Now the focus must be on implementing effective action.” 

From making the case to taking action on climate and health 

So how do we organise for change and action? What does this mean for civil society, for governments, for the private sector? On Health Day at COP28, global leaders united to endorse the Emirates Declaration on Climate Change and Health to “confront” and take action on the connections between climate and health. 124 countries are signatories to the declaration and, though voluntary (not legally binding), the Declaration was accompanied by a pledge of $1bn financing commitment.  

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called out the necessity of doing  everything, everywhere, all at once. The challenge though, is knowing what this means. What are the day-by-day steps, the big, bold leadership steps, the consistent engagement steps?  

Forum for the Future convenes the Climate and Health Coalition, which holds two beliefs at its core: firstly, that having a systemic view of health is key – that health is created, or eroded, by multiple different factors and only looking “downstream” at where poor health is already being experienced is insufficient for tackling the dual crises in our global climate and in our health systems. Ultimately, this One Health perspective is “an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems” (WHO). Secondly, the Coalition believes that the private sector has an important role to play in working at this intersection. The products and services that businesses provide shape human and planetary health in ways that range from positive, to neutral, to negative. This effect is known as the commercial determinants of health 

To tackle the climate crisis, and the related crises in health, nature and equity, businesses must ensure that, when tackling their carbon emissions, they also consider the health impacts of their operations. But knowing where to act can be a daunting task.  

To tackle the climate crisis, and the related crises in health, nature and equity, businesses must ensure that, when tackling their carbon emissions, they also consider the health impacts of their operations.

Introducing the Climate and Health toolkit for healthcare businesses 

At COP28, the Climate and Health Coalition launched a toolkit for the healthcare sector to begin to take action on the linked climate and health crises, or to join-up or accelerate existing action. The Coalition has heard from stakeholders that specific, granular, actionable guidance is needed to understand entry points to action, see how existing work on climate change can be adjusted or broadened to take into account health impacts, to get inspired by the success of other organisations, and to understand where there are opportunities to collaborate. 

The toolkit helps businesses in the healthcare sector self-assess where they are on their journey towards acting at the climate / health intersection, to understand what activities they are currently undertaking that span it, what their barriers and enablers to action are, and whether they are fighting against perverse incentives. For example, does the footprint of their operations cause respiratory health issues due to air pollution, whilst they are simultaneously trying to tackle respiratory disease through their products or services? The toolkit encourages businesses to understand their impact, and the space for action on climate and health, across four spheres of influence: within their operations (including their employees), within their products and services, in their supply chains, and in the broader enabling environment – the policy and economic landscape within which they operate. Actions can, and should, be taken across all four spheres. 

iagram: Business spheres of influence, from the Climate and Health toolkit

Whilst it is – or should be – evident that it’s not possible to have a healthy, enduring business on an unhealthy planet, making the economic case for change is key. Some actions will require a shift in strategy and investment. The toolkit module on the business case for change, for example, highlights the effects of extreme heat on productivity. A large-scale survey indicates that over 70% of employees consider their employer’s action on climate change to be key to their sense of motivation and commitment.  

Taking bold action requires both a clear vision and aligned leadership, and the toolkit includes modules - with workshop agendas, slides, and worksheets - for each of these critical areas. Actions that other organisations have taken are brought to life through a series of case studies, mapped across the four spheres of influence.  

While a proliferation of organisations have started to work at the intersection of climate and health, and on planetary health, navigating this “change ecosystem” can be complex. Collaboration is key to accelerating action and the valuable examples of work from a host of organisations, including the Coalition’s network of Associate Partners, encourages opportunities for the private sector to connect and engage with civil society and NGOs. 

There is an urgency to all climate action, and, with the climate and health intersection, there is a particular timeliness to taking action now. Firstly, because it's clear that this is a critical agenda – from the health day at COP, to Davos calling out the economic implications, to the WHO identifying the key priorities for cross-sector action in this space. Secondly, because in 2025 nations will be publishing their updated, and progressively more ambitious, Nationally Determined Contributions on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. The role of the private sector in contributing to new national targets will be highlighted and businesses must be ambitious in envisioning their contributions. 

For those of you who are just getting started on this journey, or who want to go faster, e-mail Ksenia Benifand.

About the Climate & 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.