Following World Health Day this past Sunday, Hannah Pathak, Forum’s International Managing Director and co-director of the Climate and Health Coalition, shares findings from a recent network roundtable about how organisations are focusing on climate and health in 2024, and why taking action now is more urgent than ever. 

Every human has the right to health. This principle is enshrined in international human rights agreements but the gap between principle and reality is vast. In 2021 over half of the world’s population – some 4.5 billion people – did not have access to essential healthcare services 

This chasm of health equity is the focus of this year’s World Health Day, with a theme of “My Health, My Right”. The ability – or inability – to access healthcare is driven by multiple factors: from the extent of government provision of universal healthcare to all citizens, individual finances available to cover health costs, the ability to understand and navigate health-related information, to the positive and negative impacts on health resulting from private sector activities.  

Climate change will increasingly impact health and demands on health services, risking a worsening of health inequality. The Lancet, one of the oldest peer-reviewed general medical journals, publishes an annual Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, spelling out the escalating and converging risks that climate change is causing to health. The 2023 report calls out the escalation of heat-related deaths, economic losses from declines in productivity linked to heat stress, and food insecurity.  

The way climate change influences health outcomes is a growing area of focus, as demonstrated by the first Health Day at COP28 in 2023, and the COP UAE Declaration on Climate and Health, which calls for the urgent need to understand and act on the connections between climate and health. The climate crisis is a health crisis, but it is also a crisis of inequality and justice.  

The interconnections of climate, health, inequality and justice 

The links between climate change and inequality are stark: those most vulnerable in society, whether for their health or socio-economic status, are most likely to be severely affected by climate change impacts. This is true in an acute crisis, such as a climate-caused disaster. For example, those with physical disabilities are more vulnerable in the event of a hurricane.  

But it is also true for chronic climate-related impacts. Those who live in areas of high air pollution are disproportionately more likely to also be suffering with other linked effects of poverty – to be living in neighbourhoods without green spaces, in unhealthy buildings, or in places where there is little regulation on polluting industries. The drivers of climate change are drivers of air pollution, and the poorest in society are those most affected.  

This is a crisis of justice, because in general, those who have contributed least to climate change, are often those who are most vulnerable and most impacted. The UN calls the need for climate-related loss and damage provision, particularly in low- and middle-income countries who have historically contributed far fewer greenhouse gas emissions “a moral imperative to act” 

What action can the private sector take to advance climate and health outcomes? 

As part of the Climate and Health Coalition, a multi-stakeholder collaboration convened by Forum for the Future that focuses on the role of the private sector in taking action at the intersection between climate and health, we host regular network roundtable sessions, encouraging sharing across the many – and growing – number of organisations who work in this space.  

Here are some of our recent findings as to what the climate and health communities are focusing on in 2024: 

  • Putting the climate and health intersection firmly on global agendas: Associate Partners to the Climate and Health Coalition spoke about other key events in 2024 where the intersection will be highlighted, from this year’s G20 in Brazil, to the World Health Assembly.  

  • Making the approach systemic: Partners spoke about their work connecting climate and health to nature and equity agendas. These are all intersecting crises; efforts are increasingly cross-sector and collaborative too, with multilaterals, philanthropies, the private sector, academia and civil society more and more connected. Work is also increasingly systemic in terms of working both and up and down-stream – many partners spoke about their work in both these domains, and over differing time horizons. 

  • Shifting towards action: If making the case for change and building a narrative that people can connect to about the climate and health nexus has been the focus of the last couple of years, there is now a definitive shift towards action-oriented work. This encompasses work in supply chains, in policy, in metrics and reporting frameworks, as well as in health systems directly. 

  • Continuing to build the right data and information about this intersection: In many instances the data is still lacking or patchy. Data and information are critical to help with forecasting (e.g. future impacts of climate on health), metrics (how do we know where to act, and whether actions are delivering the expected outcomes), to shape behaviours (e.g. of consumers and patients), the impact of sectors, and fundamentally, to make decisions. 

  • Increasing the focus on adaption: Climate and health is still is not getting the focus and finances required. Understanding vulnerability (an area where data and information is key) and taking actions towards resilience must be accelerated, with finances streams to enable this. This is not a case of mitigation or adaptation – this is a dual urgency and the health impacts of climate change are being felt now.  

  • Understanding and focusing on the important role of cities: Given that by 2050 approximately two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities), the fact that cities are at the vanguard of tackling climate change, building resilience, and supporting health is in the spotlight, with many initiatives focused at the city level.  

  • Financing the transition: In many ways the most critically, financing towards net zero economies and societies, with all the innovation and adaptation required, is still insufficient. Many partners are working directly with the finance sector, and philanthropies are working to finance work that cannot be addressed through other forms of finance.

Interested in sharing your organisations plans around climate and health for 2024? Contact Hannah Pathak [email protected] for more information about the Climate and Health Coalition and how you can join the group.

Contact Hannah