COP28 breaks new ground with plans of first Health Day

COP-28 President-Designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber convenes meetings with world-leading economies race to close the $2.4 Trillion finance gap by 2030.

Speaking against the backdrop of global leaders and climate advocates, COP28 President-Designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber emphasised the vital link between climate change and health, declaring, “The connection between health and climate change is evident, yet it has not been a specific focus of the COP process — until now. This must change.”

The significance of this focus cannot be understated. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) paints a stark picture. Air pollution alone is responsible for seven million excess deaths annually, with vulnerable communities bearing the brunt. Vector-borne diseases like Malaria are expanding their reach due to rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, threatening global health security.

Dr Al Jaber called on the international community to rally behind the Health Day and ministerial, he acknowledged the pivotal role of country champions, including Brazil, the UK, the USA, the Netherlands, Kenya, Fiji, India, Egypt, Sierra Leone, and Germany. Their commitment to leading climate health discussions at COP28 is a testament to the urgency of the issue.

The financial toll of health crises attributed to climate change is staggering. Dr. Al Jaber revealed a chilling estimate, “Health crises linked to climate change are expected to cost between USD 2-4 billion annually by 2030, exacerbating poverty, particularly in disadvantaged regions.”

The World Bank further underscores the gravity of this issue, projecting that nearly 40 per cent of climate-related poverty will result from the direct health impacts of climate change. This, in turn, affects productivity, income, and health expenses for millions.

In response to these challenges, Dr Al Jaber made a compelling plea, “We need increased concessional funds to the Global South to lower risks and attract private capital. Governments must double adaptation finance by 2025 and generously contribute to replenish the Green Climate Fund.”

But Dr Al Jaber didn’t just highlight the financial burden; he also presented a compelling argument for redefining these expenses as investments rather than costs. Citing the World Bank, he said, “Every dollar invested in building climate resilience yields an average benefit of four dollars.”

This message resonated with financial institutions, including development banks. Dr. Al Jaber commended their leadership, stating, “The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Green Climate Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation are committed to closing the climate-health financing gap at COP28.”

The session also provided a platform for Dr Al Jaber to underscore the UAE’s legacy and leadership in safeguarding human health. Initiatives like ‘Reaching the Last Mile,’ backed by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have committed over USD455 million to improve global health outcomes, particularly in vulnerable communities.

As the session concluded, it set the tone for New York Climate Week, emphasising the imperative of investing in adaptation and resilience solutions, especially in countries that emit the least carbon but are most adversely impacted by climate-driven health outcomes.

Dr Al Jaber’s commitment to health as a priority area was met with applause from Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, who stated, “The most compelling reasons for climate action are not in the future – they’re right here, and right now. The climate crisis drives extreme weather events that claim lives worldwide, spreads infectious and noncommunicable diseases, and undermines food security.”

These impacts are starkly reflected in the data. WHO estimates that an additional 250,000 people die every year due to climate change, with rising temperatures, extreme weather events, air pollution, wildfires, and compromised water, land, and food security taking their toll on lives and well-being.

The health consequences of climate change carry significant economic ramifications. The World Bank’s projection that up to 132 million people will fall into poverty by 2030 due to the direct health impacts of climate change underscores the urgency of action. Furthermore, approximately 1.2 billion people are expected to be displaced by 2050 due to climate-induced factors.

However, investments in health offer substantial returns. Studies show that every dollar invested in health can generate up to US$ 4. This economic potential underscores the need to prioritise health as a core component of climate resilience.

Dr Vanessa Kerry, WHO Director-General Special Envoy for Climate Change and Health, stated, “Climate change is the biggest threat to health in the 21st century, and our very survival is at stake.”

She emphasized the need to move away from “the pandemic of poor and expedient choices,” highlighting the imperative of investing in human well-being. Resilient health systems, capable of adapting to the growing burdens of disease and the impacts of extreme weather, are the need of the hour.