Most Countries Recognise Health Impact of Climate Change – But Many Lack Detailed Plans to Mitigate This

Almost all countries (91%) have included health considerations in their latest climate-mitigation plans – called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – but those that have already felt the effects of extreme weather events appear more likely to have more detailed plans.

This is according to an analysis of countries’ 2022 NDCs, the main policy instrument to reduce emissions and build climate resilience as set out by the Paris Agreement, by the World Health Organization (WHO) released on Wednesday.

While almost two-thirds (63%) of countries had health adaptation priorities, virtually all the low- and lower-middle-income countries (87%) had done so. For example, Papua New Guinea and Uganda include measures to improve early warning systems for health risks such as vector-borne diseases. Fiji and Lao include measures to increase the resilience of public health infrastructure.

The health adaptation component least often included is the health workforce (13%). But  Georgia, Haiti and Namibia committed to strengthening the capacity of health professionals to respond to climate impacts and stressors, while the Seychelles committed to integrating climate change into the curriculum for health professionals. 

“Countries have made significant progress in recognising climate change’s threat to human and planetary health in their national plans to tackle climate change, but we need to see these commitments scaled up, accelerated, and adequately funded to ensure an equitable response that protects the health and livelihoods of current and future generations,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health.

Air pollution

Only 16% of plans have stand-alone targets, measures or policies to address air pollution and short-lived pollutants – described by the WHO as a “huge gap”. 

“Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health. Ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution together cause around seven million premature deaths each year from ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory diseases like asthma and pneumonia, which disproportionately affects children in low- and middle-income countries,” according to WHO.

However, the United Kingdom asserts that air pollution is the top environmental risk to human health in the UK and sets out a clean air strategy to tackle all types of air pollution. 

Bangladesh, Benin, the Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nigeria, Togo and Zimbabwe all include numeric targets to reduce short-lived pollutants by 2030.

Only 10% NDCs quantify the health co-benefits of climate mitigation, although this represents a significant increase compared with the 2019 NDCs when only 1% did so. Pakistan uses a low emission analysis benefit calculator tool to assess the multiple benefits of reducing emissions, including health benefits, while Moldova prioritizes climate investments based on the social and health co-benefits of various mitigation measures.

COVID undermines plans

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on economies, often worsened existing social and economic inequalities, and impacted countries’ climate mitigation plans.

Just over a quarter (28%) of NDCs recognize the pandemic’s impact on their level of ambition and/or implementation of national climate goals. For example, the Seychelles points out that its revised national climate plan should be understood in the context of the severe economic impacts of the pandemic on the country’s tourism and fisheries sectors, while Oman asserts that the pandemic has plunged the national economy into an unprecedented recession. 

Some 17% of countries recognise the role of nature-based solutions and/or a One Health approach in addressing both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the European Union recognizes that “nature-based solutions” play an important role in solving global challenges such as biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, poverty, hunger, health, water scarcity and drought, gender inequality, disaster risk reduction, and climate change. 

Image Credits: CNN.

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