Published on Investing in Health

Sands of time are running out for climate action on health

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Health infrastructure will need to be updated to respond to extreme events, like heat and flooding. Health infrastructure will need to be updated to respond to extreme events, like heat and flooding. Photo: Ruby Mangunsong/World Bank.

With COP27 ongoing in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the stark impacts that climate change has on health and human well-being are striking. Not only is the human toll from the climate crisis gravea huge loss to humanity—it is also imposing dire economic impacts that are damaging the prosperity of nations across the globe.

The scale of this challenge is immense. According to the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, extreme weather events caused damage worth $253 billion over this last year alone. Focusing on a single climate exposure that directly affects human health, extreme heat ‘evaporated’ over 5% of GDP in the most vulnerable countries due to productivity losses.

The economic cost of climate-related health risks

But the economic cost of climate-related health risks is still largely missing. That’s why at the World Bank we have embarked on an ambitious effort to quantify the economic costs of climate-related health risks. This undertaking—supported by the Climate Investment Funds—includes a tool to conduct climate and health economic valuations at the country level.

To date, this tool has been piloted in Bangladesh, Egypt, Nepal and Pakistan, with preliminary data available across six climate-related health risks—malaria, dengue, stunting, extreme events, heat, and diarrhea—for present day impacts. Moving forward, this work will incorporate climate projection models and then consider the cost-benefits of policy options and health interventions.

More information can help increase effective climate finance for health, in particular for adaptation and resilience where the biggest gap currently lies. Ultimately, quantifying current and future impacts will enable us to dedicate ever scarce resources to close this gap.

Availability of resources is fundamental, but it is only a part of what is required. We also need to know what to do with this money. Effectively mainstreaming development goals—regardless of whether these are specifically for climate­—can have a big impact. For example, ensuring countries have functioning primary health care services will enable them to deal with climate threats to vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the elderly.

Need for climate targeted interventions

But there is an additional need for climate-targeted interventions to address health risks. Three examples come to mind. First, health infrastructure needs to be updated to respond to extreme events, like heat and flooding. Second, emergency preparedness plans need to consider projected climate impacts and adequately prepare resources in advance of climate shocks.

Finally, countries should develop integrated surveillance and early warning systems that allow flow of information—in real-time, where possible—between health, hydromet services, and other key sectors such as agriculture. The World Bank provides global implementation guidance and country technical assistance to systematize this support.

Moving beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to country-tailored programs is critical to ensure that health systems are sufficiently adept to deal with the complexity of the climate crisis. To this end, in collaboration with the Climate Investments Funds and other partners, we have been systematically collating information on climate-related health risks and health systems adaptive capacity through climate and health vulnerability assessments.

The recommendations from such assessments are now feeding directly into World Bank financed projects and programs. They are also informing the recently developed Country Climate Development Reports , which integrate climate and development considerations to support the reduction of emissions, boost adaptation, whilst also delivering on broader development goals.

Responding to climate-related health risks rapidly and at scale is no small task. It will require a globally coherent and inclusive approach to put all the pieces together in such a way that we can respond to the inevitable.

Over the past five years the World Bank committed just over $1.8 billion to support climate investments for health including integrated surveillance systems, sustainable cooling, and energy efficiency measures. The Bank will continue to expand this support to countries especially those affected most by the climate crisis.

In essence, this is about how we move towards a green universal health coverage agenda that defines the best buys for climate and health. We don’t claim to have all answers, but similar to what the Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz alluded to, we should try to be wise by our questions.

Special thanks to Tamer Rabie and Stephen Dorey for their contributions to this blog.


Juan Pablo Uribe

Global Director, Health, Nutrition & Population and the Global Financing Facility, World Bank

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