COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health - The Health Argument for Climate Action

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The 10 recommendations in the COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health propose a set of priority actions from the global health community to governments and policy makers, calling on them to act with urgency on the current climate and health crises.

The recommendations were developed in consultation with over 150 organizations and 400 experts and health professionals. They are intended to inform governments and other stakeholders ahead of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to highlight various opportunities for governments to prioritize health and equity in the international climate movement and sustainable development agenda. Each recommendation comes with a selection of resources and case studies to help inspire and guide policymakers and practitioners in implementing the suggested solutions.


As the last two years have shown us, public, planetary and economic health are inextricably linked.
The race to a zero-emissions economy before 2050 is, therefore, a race to a healthy, clean and resilient future.

As highlighted by the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report published earlier this year, we need to halve greenhouse gas emissions between 2020 and 2030 while reversing nature loss in order to reach net zero and limit global warming to a 1.5°C. But time is running short, and every fraction of a degree threatens to cause more death and economic destruction.

This is going to require full systems change and collaboration across all sectors. As highlighted by this report, these include energy, transport, built environment and agriculture amongst multiple other sectors. However, we also need to act within the healthcare sector given the scale of the economy and emissions it represents. The World Health Organization estimates that globally the spending on health reached 10% of GDP in 2018, and Health Care Without Harm estimates that in 2019 the sector was responsible for 4.4% of net global emissions.

We have seen good progress to date on the UN Race to Zero, where 46 healthcare institutions representing over 3,200 healthcare facilities across 18 countries have joined. In addition to this, over 28% of major pharmaceutical and medical technology companies by revenue have joined the campaign. But we need to keep accelerating our efforts to both cut emissions and build resilience to the impacts of climate change, and move from ambition to action within the 2020s. As the healthcare sector is already demonstrating, health can enable transformational change in other sectors.

At the same time, we must adapt to thrive in spite of impacts such as floods, droughts and extreme temperatures. Through the UN Race to Resilience, by 2030 we are mobilising businesses, investors, cities and regions to build the resilience of the 4 billion people most at risk.

On top of that, we need to continue to improve the quality and delivery of accessible healthcare across the globe. The future of healthcare needs to be reimagined, where we can build a world that is zero carbon, resilient, and healthy for all. In this future, there is clean air, food security, more access to nature – a world where our children can thrive. I welcome the clear recommendations from this report which show the steps we must take together to build that future.

Nigel Topping

COP26 High-Level Climate Action Champion