Building Climate-Resilient Systems for Health and Food Security
Cheryl Moore, (Wellcome Trust); Vanessa Kerry, (CEO of Seed Global Health), Bayer AG CEO Bill Anderson; Nisia Trindade Lima, Brazil’s health minister, and Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine.

Progress made towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is being reversed by climate change and, despite the promises made at the recent COP28, there are gaps in funding to address the crisis, Vanessa Kerry, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The global temperature increase is already 1.4°C above pre-industrial era and the world is currently on path to a 2.4°C increase, added Kerry, who is also CEO of Seed Global Health.

“A lot of funding was put on the table for climate and health. $1 billion was pledged,” said Kerry. “But of that $800 million was pre-committed, pre-earmarked, so this isn’t new money. And this isn’t available money. We are sitting here in Davos, this is some of the biggest wealth in the world. So when we talk about what we have to do in this moment, we have to think about how we can step into that gap more now.”

Kerry was speaking at the event called, “When climate change impacts your health”. 

The year 2023 shattered global temperature records and at 1.4°C above the pre-industrial era, the planet is just shy of the 1.5°C target set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.

In countries like Zambia, cholera outbreaks linked to a rise in rainfall are leading to school closures, and malaria is spreading in countries where it had been previously eradicated. All of this, she said, were progresses made after significant investments and that are now at risk of reversal. Experts across fields said there is recognition that climate change is having an enormous impact on health, but the response has been limited and slow. 

Climate resilient health systems 

Nisia Trindade Lima, Brazil’s health minister

Brazilian Health Minister Nisia Trindade Lima spoke of the wide range of climate-related impacts on health in her country from rising food insecurity as droughts become more frequent, to epidemics of infectious diseases like dengue as rising temperatures lengthen the transmission season of the virus. 

“In order to build resilient health systems, we need to conceive systems that focus on equality and that are going to be developed and implemented hand-in-hand with other sectors of the government, civil society, and the private sector so that we can have plans that reduce carbon emissions, that implement sustainable measures in the health system itself,” said Lima. 

Brazil will unveil proposals to build resilient health systems at the G20 meeting in Rio in November, said Lima. Brazil took over the G20 Presidency from India this year and also hosts the 2025 climate talks, COP30.  

Promoting climate-resilient agriculture

Bill Anderson, CEO of Bayer AG, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, said that with crops failing regularly now due to climate extremes, many countries are struggling with food insecurity. 

Bill Anderson, CEO of Bayer AG

Anderson said his company has worked on short-stature corn that will only grow to be six feet instead of 10 feet so the stalks would not bend and collapse as easily during extreme weather events, as well as making pesticide applications easier.

Bayer is also working on reducing methane production from rice, a staple crop in many countries. Although methane stays in the atmosphere only for a few decades it is a greenhouse gas that is 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide

“We have an opportunity to replace that (rice) with so-called direct-seeded rice that requires about 40% less water, and [causes] 90% less methane production. So these are examples that are good for farmers, they’re good for eaters, and they’re good for the environment,” Anderson said.

Need to bring down health-sector emissions

Victor Dzau, President of the US National Academy of Medicine said that in recent years the health sector has woken up to the impact of climate. It has also reckoned with its own contribution to global carbon emissions which is estimated to be around 5% of the global carbon emissions, equivalent to the carbon footprints of some countries.

At the same time Dzau said that to reduce the health impacts of climate change, one has to go beyond the health sector.

“At the end of the day, if you look at where the carbon emissions coming are from, three-quarters are from energy use, and 20% from agriculture, land-use. So those have direct impacts on climate, which have impact on health,” he said.

Image Credits: The Future of Food .

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