Climate risks to health were growing but countries lack funding to safeguard human health from climate change, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
In a report released at the ongoing UN climate change negotiations here, it said about 50 percent of out of 101 countries surveyed reported having a national health and climate change strategy or plan yet a qualitative analysis of the plans indicated that the content and scope of these strategies and plans varied widely.
In the WHO Health and Climate Change Survey report, most of the plans (25 out of 36) were approved or updated in the past five years, indicating a recognition of the urgency to protect population health from climate variability and climate change and the need to build climate-resilient health systems.
A majority of countries reported only moderate or low levels of implementation of their national health and climate change strategies or plans with financing being cited as the most common barrier to implementation (24 out of 43 respondents).
“Climate change is not only racking up a bill for future generations to pay, its a price that people are paying for now with their health,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“It is a moral imperative that countries have the resources they need to act against climate change and safeguard health now and in the future.”
Forty-eight percent of countries have conducted an assessment of the climate risks to public health. The most common climate-sensitive health risks were identified by countries as heat stress, injury or death from extreme weather events, food, water and vector-borne diseases (such as cholera, dengue or malaria).
However, about 60 percent of these countries report that the assessment findings have had little or no influence on the allocation of human and financial resources to meet their adaptation priorities for protecting health.
Mainstreaming health in national and international climate processes could help access the necessary funds.
The survey found that countries have difficulties in accessing international climate finance to protect the health of their people.
Over 75 percent reported a lack of information on opportunities to access climate finance, over 60 percent a lack of connection of health actors to the climate finance processes, and over 50 percent a lack of capacity to prepare proposals.
While two-thirds of current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement mention health and the health sector is among the five sectors most often described as vulnerable to climate change, this has not resulted in the necessary level of implementation and support.
Also, previous work has shown that the value of health gains from reducing carbon emissions would be approximately double the cost of implementing these actions at global level, and meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement could save about a million lives a year worldwide by 2050 through reductions in air pollution alone.
However, many countries are not able to take advantage of this potential.
The survey shows that less than 25 percent of countries have clear collaborations between health and the key sectors driving climate change and air pollution; transportation, electricity generation, and household energy.
The health gains that would result from cutting carbon emissions are rarely reflected in national climate commitments, with only one-fifth of NDCs mentioning health in the context of emissions reductions and one in 10 NDCs mentioning the expected health gains.
“For the Paris Agreement to be effective to protect people’s health, all levels of government need to prioritize building health system resilience to climate change, and a growing number of national governments are clearly headed in that direction,” said Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, WHO.
But some gaps urgently need to be addressed, says the WHO.
One is getting countries from making plans to implementing them by addressing barriers to action, such as making sure the health sector is included in climate change processes and ensuring that they have the capacity and support to access the finance they need.
Another is to get health factored into the decision-making processes that have implications for cutting carbon emissions and other sustainability goals, and to take account of the health gains that result from taking climate action.