COP28: 124 Countries Commit to Milestone ‘Declaration on Climate and Health’
The United Arab Emirates, host of COP28, announced $1 billion in new funding from 124 countries for ‘Climate and Health’. The United States and India are not taking part.

DUBAI, UAE – In what is being described as a historic and pivotal moment by top COP28 and World Health Organization (WHO) officials, 124 countries have endorsed the Declaration of Climate and Health. Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President of COP28 in Dubai, made the announcement.

“We have received commitments from 123 countries that are ready to sign the health declaration,” Al Jaber said Saturday. “That is a big achievement. It is a giant leap in the right direction.” China reportedly committed to the declaration shortly after Al Jaber’s remarks, bringing the informal tally as of 2 December to 124 countries. 

The political declaration marks the first time that the health impacts of climate change have taken centre stage in 28 years of UN climate talks. The United States and the European Union headline the list of signatories along with wide swathes of Latin America, leading north African and east African nations, such as Kenya, as well as Nigeria. India and South Africa, however, had not signed at the time of publication.

While the declaration is not legally binding, the declaration serves as a voluntary call to action outside the formal process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Reem Ebrahim Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation in the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed hope that the declaration would dispel any lingering doubts about the health crisis posed by climate change.

“I believe we now have the basis within the COP process to move to a greater scale and greater impact and to end any silly confusion about whether the climate crisis is a health crisis,” said Al Hashimy. 

‘Initial tranche’ of $1 billion announced

World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses COP28 after Al Jaber announced the Health & Climate declaration.

The UAE announced an “aggregated” financing commitment of $1 billion, facilitated by the Green Climate Fund, the Asian Development Bank, The Global Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Al Hashimy described the funding as “an initial tranche” intended to back up the political commitments made by the 124 signatory nations.

This financing will be crucial, particularly for low- and middle-income countries. The declaration underscores the need to “better leverage synergies at the intersection of climate change and health to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of finance flows.”

“Finance for climate and health unlocks action which benefits both people and the planet,” said Jess Beagley, Policy Lead at the Global Climate and Health Alliance. This $1 billion sum is a tremendous addition to current levels of climate and health finance.” 

The declaration calls for climate action to achieve “benefits for health from deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including from just transitions, lower air pollution, active mobility, and shifts to sustainable healthy diets.”

However, the health declaration does not mention fossil fuels, a contentious issue for several governments, despite overwhelming and conclusive evidence that global warming is caused by the excessive burning of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are not the only notable exclusion. Two of the top three greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and India, are absent from the list of 124 nations that endorsed the declaration.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Biden, leaders of the world’s two biggest polluting nations, will not attend the Dubai conference. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended COP28 on December 1 and expressed India’s interest in hosting COP28 in 2028.

COP28 President Al Jaber expressed optimism that more countries would join the initiative.

“We continue to engage and ask many others to sign up. Those who have not signed up already have given me the right signals and positive responses that they will be signing up soon. I’m very much counting on them coming on board,” he stated.

Today’s announcement comes on the eve of a high-level meeting of health ministers and other officials in Dubai to discuss the health impacts of climate change. This ministerial meeting is expected to mark the first formal step towards including health in the COP process.

The climate crisis is a health crisis

COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber announced the Climate and Health Declaration on Saturday.

The global health community, which has advocated for decades for climate change to be recognized as a health crisis, welcomed the endorsement of the Declaration of Climate and Health as a landmark moment.

“This is the realization of a dream for which the global health community has been fighting for years,” said Dr Maria Neira, who leads the WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health  “The climate crisis is a health crisis.”

Mafalda Duerte, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund, warned of the potential for climate change to disrupt healthcare systems even more severely than the COVID-19 pandemic. “What’s coming because of climate is something we don’t fully understand,” she said.

Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, commended the financial commitments made to support climate and health initiatives. “Our foundation will commit $100 million going forward to climate and health,” he stated.

The WHO’s Dr Maria Neira, who leads the UN health body’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, described the declaration as the realisation of a dream for which the global health community has been fighting for years.

COP28 crossroads

The average daily global temperature shattered the 2°C above pre-industrial level mark for the first time on November 17, according to the European Union’s Copernicus climate change service.

COP28 is considered the most crucial climate conference since the Paris Agreement in 2015. While the Paris Agreement secured global recognition of the need to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the Dubai conference will require governments to reassess their Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) based on the findings of the first Global Stocktake (GST). 

Scientific assessments from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), GST, and other expert bodies show that the current climate policies announced and enacted by governments are far too little to address the climate crisis.

The current trajectory of global emissions is headed towards warming of nearly 3°C by the end of the century. The big question over the next ten days in Dubai is whether countries will step up their climate commitments and agree on climate finance to accelerate the transition to a low-emission global economy.

The United States is reportedly set to pledge $3 billion to the GCF at COP28. US Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to announce the pledge during her address to the conference.

Transitioning the world to a green global economy and supporting adaptation efforts in countries vulnerable to climate change is estimated to require trillions of dollars.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this story, Health Policy Watch erroneously reported that the United States of America had not signed onto the Health and Climate declaration, when in fact they were one of its early supporters.  We regret the error. 

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.