Partnering for the health of people and planet

Climate change has far-reaching impacts on human health and well-being.  Changing temperature and rainfall patterns impact crop yield, food and water security, and nutrition.  The increased frequency and intensity of extreme events can cause not only injury, but also increase the risk of water-borne diseases (diarrhoeal disease, Hepatitis A and E, bacterial diseases such as cholera), diseases associated with crowding (measles, meningitis, acute respiratory infections) and vector-borne diseases (malaria, dengue), as well as psychological and emotional distress related to traumatic events.  These impacts will be felt especially by vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and low-income communities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths each year between 2030 and 2050, just considering risks from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

Health impacts from climate change are exacerbated in countries where health systems already struggle to manage existing health risks, and capacity to adapt to additional climate change-related health risks is limited.

“Poverty, ill-health and environmental stress are inter-related, and achieving the 2030 agenda – and our pledge to leave no one behind – means we must address them together.” - Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator

The challenge is daunting, and the underlying causes complex – requiring innovative approaches and cross-sectoral solutions.  Through critical partnerships between governments, civil society, UN agencies, and global environment and health organizations, support can be provided to countries in responding to the health impacts of climate variability and change by working at the nexus of health, environmental sustainability and climate change, disaster risk reduction, gender equality, and poverty alleviation.  Through collaboration on shared objectives, partners bring together their expertise and respective comparative advantages to scale-up effective solutions.
“While health emergencies hit quickly, climate change is a slow-motion disaster.” - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

UNDP and WHO, with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), have supported establishment of early warning systems for climate-related health outcomes, developing software for forecasting risk, and collecting data to inform preparedness and longer-term health planning – linking climate data with epidemiological surveillance.  This was complemented with community-level  investments, tailored to particular development challenges and vulnerabilities, such as heat early warning systems and relevant  campaigns in China and Uzbekistan, malaria and dengue control interventions in Barbados and Kenya, safe wastewater practices in Jordan, and epidemic control protocols to follow extreme events in Bhutan and Fiji.  Building on these successes, UNDP and WHO are developing similar programmes to support least developed countries (LDCs) in the Asia and Pacific regions. 

These initiatives have shown that factors determining success are unique to locale. Importantly, they have also shown that partnerships and targeted approaches have impacts across development goals.  The above examples have contributed to climate action, clean energy, health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, and partnerships for the goals. Integrated approaches are key to ensuring that the priorities of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are mutually reinforcing.

"The Climate Change agreement signed in Paris is not only about protecting the environment; it is also a powerful public health treaty." - Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment, WHO

Common advocacy and action across sectors is needed to tackle the shared causes and consequences of climate change, as well as the health impacts these changes imply. This includes promoting sustainable patterns of production and consumption, clean energy use, environmentally-friendly urban planning and transport systems, sustainable food systems, healthy diets and active lifestyles, and promoting climate resilient water and sanitation.

Working together, actors from health, environment, and other relevant sectors such as transport, energy, and water and sanitation can generate solutions that accelerate progress and amplify the efforts of each individual sector. A ‘health in all policies’ approach is key to pursuing policy coherence between economic, social, and environmental goals in order to place vulnerable people and communities at the centre of development efforts and ensure the sustainability of our fragile, shared planet.

About the authors

Mariana Simões is a Regional Technical Specialist on Climate Change Adaptation with the Global Environmental Finance Unit at UNDP. Follow her on Twitter: @MarianaSim0es

Elena Villalobos works with the Climate Change and Health Unit at the World Health Organization.

Nadia Rasheed is the Team Leader for Health and Development at UNDP's Bangkok Regional Hub. Follow her on Twitter: @NadiaRashd

For more information on UNDP’s work in climate change adaptation follow @UNDPClimate and @WHO on Twitter


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Mariana Simões, Regional Technical Specialist on Climate Change Adaptation with the Global Environmental Finance Unit, UNDP

Last Updated: 6 Jun 2018