WHO unveils framework for climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems

  • 11th December 2023

Responding to the rapidly-changing climate, the World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled a new operational framework for building climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems.

Released in the lead up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (COP-28) later this month, this comprehensive framework is designed to enhance the resilience of health systems while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to help safeguard the health of communities worldwide.

“Around the world, health systems are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but they also contribute to it,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general.

“We therefore have a dual responsibility to build health systems that can withstand climate-related shocks, while at the same time reducing their carbon footprint.

“This framework gives countries a roadmap for doing just that.”

He added: “As global temperatures rise and extreme weather events become increasingly common, the need for climate-resilient health systems has never been more critical.

“WHO’s framework provides a visionary path to addressing this challenge, with a core mission to protect and improve the health of populations in the face of an unstable and changing climate.

“Moreover, it emphasises the optimisation of resource use and the implementation of strategies to curtail GHG emissions while continuing to prioritise climate resilience.

“This framework presents an opportunity for the health sector to lead by example by reducing its own GHG emissions, which are now responsible for almost 5% of the global total, while continuing to enhance quality of care.”

The framework presents different pathways for health systems to strengthen their climate resilience and decarbonise, depending on their overall performance, levels of GHG emissions, and climate change and health capacity.

This includes systems in low-income countries that need to increase energy access and health service provision to provide universal health coverage.

The key objectives of the framework are:

  • To guide health sector professionals in addressing climate-related health risks through collaboration
  • To strengthen health system functions for climate resilience and low carbon health approaches
  • To support development of specific interventions for climate risk reduction and emissions reduction
  • To define roles and responsibilities for health decision makers in climate resilience.

And it sets out 10 components for building climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems:

  • Climate-transformative leadership and governance
  • Climate-smart health workforce
  • Assessments of climate and health risks and GHG emissions
  • Integrated risks monitoring, early warning and GHG emissions tracking
  • Health and climate research
  • Climate-resilient and low carbon infrastructures, technologies and supply chain
  • Management of environmental determinants of health
  • Climate-informed health programmes
  • Climate-related emergency preparedness and management
  • Sustainable climate and health financing.

It was developed following the request for WHO support by ministers of health from over 75 countries to building climate-resilient and low-carbon sustainable health systems.

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