Health and Climate Network Briefing 4: Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Systems

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Health and Climate Network Briefing 4: Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Systems

This is the fourth in a series of HCN briefings presenting the link between climate action and health. This paper puts forward policies that can help tackle the climate crisis while also improving human health, allowing national governments to address two important challenges at the same time. Efforts to limit global heating to 1.5°C must go hand in hand with achieving fundamental health benefits.

Governments have a primary responsibility for the health and well-being of their citizens. However, basic health care provision is often inadequate in most low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and among marginalised populations in many wealthy countries. Climate change and extreme weather patterns are making this worse, as already limited services are often disrupted by climate disasters, such as heatwaves, floods and droughts. Global heating drives a range of health impacts across the world – including malnutrition in all its forms, infectious vector-borne diseases, diarrhoea, heat stress, direct trauma, and mental illness – and therefore puts more strain on already stretched health care systems.

Current systems of health care provision also contribute to climate change, accounting for 4.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions (10% of emissions in the USA). If global health care were a country, it would be the fifth largest climate polluter on the planet.

Sustainable, climate resilient health systems are needed to deliver care when and where it is needed most in a way that limits the health impacts of a changing climate without adding further damage.

The briefing presents 4 recommendations for a transition towards sustainable and climate resilient health systems:

  1. Build the capacity and resilience of health workers, facilities and systems to proactively anticipate and respond to climate change.
  2. Develop sustainable and climate resilient health systems which provide primary health care for all and are underpinned by a rights-based approach to public health.
  3. Decarbonise health systems in a health-centred way while also providing leadership for other sectors.
  4. Prioritise, promote and facilitate investments in sustainable and resilient health care.