Responding to 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 upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (COP-28), this comprehensive Framework is designed to enhance the resilience of health systems while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas 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.”

Climate resilient health systems

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 greenhouse gas emissions while continuing to prioritise climate resilience. This Framework presents an opportunity for the health sector to lead by example by reducing its own greenhouse gas 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 greenhouse gas 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. Building climate resilient and low carbon health systems contributes to WHO's commitment to providing safe, quality healthcare services while helping combat the root causes of climate change.

Key objectives

·Guide health sector professionals in addressing climate-related health risks through collaboration;

·Strengthen health system functions for climate resilience and low carbon health approaches;

·Support development of specific interventions for climate risk reduction and emissions reduction; and

·Define roles and responsibilities for health decision-makers in climate resilience.

The benefits of implementing this Framework extend far beyond the realm of health care. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing the resilience of health systems, we are contributing to the broader objectives of universal health coverage (UHC), global health security, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Request from health ministers

The Framework 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. These countries joined the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH) during Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s Presidency of the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP-26) in November 2021. The UK and WHO then formally established ATACH in June 2022 to drive this ambitious agenda forward.

This comprehensive document is not only a roadmap for health organisations and authorities but also a valuable resource for decision-makers in health-determining sectors. Public health agencies, policymakers, and specialised institutions can all benefit from the insights and strategies outlined in this Framework.

The WHO’s Operational framework for building climate resilient and low carbon health systems is part of a blueprint for a future-proof and sustainable health sector. It provides a clear path forward for health systems to protect communities in an ever-changing climate, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the achievement of global health goals.

At COP-28, which will also feature a dedicated Health Day within the Conference of Parties, this historic occasion will underscore the importance of incorporating public health priorities into climate discussions.

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