Dubai: The announcement of $1 billion for climate and health and the launch of a declaration to accelerate actions to protect people’s health from growing climate impacts headlined the third day COP28 as the Presidency spotlighted health for the first time in the history of the UN Climate Change Conference.
A wide range of stakeholders including governments, development banks, multilateral institutions, philanthropies, and NGOs collectively committed to increase their investments in climate and health solutions and dedicate $1 billion to address the growing needs of the climate-health crisis.
Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation, said: “I'm thrilled to be able to announce an aggregated $1 billion for climate and health enabled by a series of new financing commitments including by the Green Climate Fund, the Asian Development Bank Global Funds, and the Rockefeller Foundation. These initiatives will be partnering closely with countries and communities to scale up a diverse set of high-impact, nationally determined investments in climate and health. They will be investing in public health measures to protect people and communities from a wide range of climate risks to health.”
The UAE Declaration
The COP28 Presidency on Saturday joined hands with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to announce a new ‘COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health’ (the Declaration). It was announced at the World Climate Action Summit, where world leaders gathered for the start of COP28.
Signed by 123 countries, the Declaration was announced one day ahead of the first ever Health Day at a COP and marks a world first in acknowledging the need for governments to protect communities and prepare healthcare systems to cope with climate-related health impacts such as extreme heat, air pollution and infectious diseases. The Declaration was developed with the support of a number of ‘country champions’ including Brazil, Malawi, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Kenya, Fiji, India, Egypt, Sierra Leone, and Germany.
This joint action comes as annual deaths from polluted air hit almost 9 million and as 189 million people are exposed to extreme weather-related events each year.
“The impacts of climate change are already at our door. They have become one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st century. Governments have now rightly recognised health as a crucial element of climate action” said COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber.
He added that the Declaration sends a strong signal that "we must reduce global emissions and work together to strengthen our health systems."
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Climate crisis a health crisis
“The climate crisis is a health crisis, but for too long, health has been a footnote in climate discussions,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.
“WHO thanks the UAE for making health a key priority in its COP28 Presidency, and welcomes this declaration, which emphasises the need to build climate-resilient and low carbon health systems, to protect the health of both planet and people."
He also urged country leaders to deliver on climate promises. “I will leave you with three priorities for going forward. First, deliver on the Paris Agreement and accelerate the phase-out of fossil fuels. It's estimated that this will save a million lives a year from air pollution. Second, to transition to climate resilient, low carbon health systems and serve to deliver on your climate finance promises and spend this on saving lives and improving the health of the most vulnerable,”
Lazarus Chakwera, President of Malawi - one of the first countries to endorse the Declaration, said: “Climate change is increasingly impacting the health and wellbeing of our communities. Malawi has experienced these impacts first-hand – extreme weather events have displaced tens of thousands of our citizens and sparked infectious disease outbreaks that have killed thousands more. This year, at COP28, we are calling for a bolder path forward that prioritises investments in health and wellbeing, ensures a just transition away from fossil fuels, and creates a healthier future for all of us.”
The Declaration covers a range of action areas at the nexus of climate and health, including building more climate-resilient health systems, strengthening cross-sectoral collaboration to reduce emissions and maximise the health benefits of climate action, and increasing finance for climate and health solutions. Signatories have also committed to incorporate health targets in their national climate plans and improve international collaboration to address the health risks of climate change, including at future COPs. It is also recognised that finance will be a significant driver of the Declaration’s success.
Financing principles launched
As such, the COP28 Presidency joined with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Green Climate Fund, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the WHO to unveil a set of ten principles to bolster financing for climate and health, mobilise new and additional finance, and foster innovation with transformative projects and new multi-sector approaches.
“[These principles] lay out a common understanding of what climate health investment means in practice. And what it means is that we cannot continue with business as usual. And we must reframe and relook at our entire architecture as we address this new alarming nexus,” said Reem Al Hashimy.
Endorsed by over 40 financing partners and civil society organisations, the COP28 Guiding Principles for Financing Climate and Health Solutions signal the growing collaboration across funders and the momentum to support climate and health solutions in a sustainable manner.
Speaking on the climate health principles, Mafalda Duarte - Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund said: “These Guiding Principles come at a pivotal moment in our fight against climate change. By creating and implementing this holistic and more equitable framework, we will find whole-of-economy benefits for prioritising health in climate financing.”
The COP28 Presidency said it recognises that reducing the health impacts of climate change will require action across all of society, including rapid and large-scale action to decarbonise energy systems to reduce emissions by at least 43% over the next seven years.
To this end, the announcement of the Declaration at the World Climate Action Summit on December 2nd, the UAE’s 52nd Union Day was one of a number of announcements from the COP28 Presidency, which recognised the need to reduce the health impacts of climate change beyond the health sector and included new initiatives to drive rapid decarbonisation to meet emission reduction targets.