The Group of Twenty (G20) health ministers, under the leadership of India’s G20 Presidency and with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), broke new ground last week, making the intersection of climate change and human health a priority issue at the highest level. Meeting in the city of Gahndinagar, India, G20 health ministers recognized that “climate change will continue to drive health emergencies,” and asserted their collective commitment to building climate-resilient, low-carbon health systems and to mobilizing resources for them.
In a speech opening the ministers’ meeting, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that “health and environment are organically linked.” Prime Minister Modi congratulated the G20 health ministers for “the steps taken toward the launch of a Climate and Health Initiative” (see minute 6:15).
India’s Additional Secretary of Health, Lav Agarwal elaborated that “We will implement the principles we’ve established in the Health Working Group and align climate and health through a new ADB supported Initiative that India will host. The Climate and Health Initiative will generate knowledge, build capacity and mobilize resources for climate-resilient, low-carbon health systems in developing countries.”
Brazil’s Minister of Health Nísia Trindade affirmed that she would make climate change one of the four health priority areas for the G20 when Brazil assumes the presidency on December 1, thereby assuring ongoing engagement on climate and health by this important forum of world leaders. The Working Group, said minister Trindade, will “jointly find solutions to sensitize the public, mobilize resources, and above all make solid, sustainable progress to the benefit of the most neglected populations.”
The G20 commitment to health care climate action comes as one of several outcomes of the health ministers’ meeting, held on August 19, 2023. Specifically, it reads as follows:
“We commit to prioritizing climate-resilient health systems development, building sustainable and low-carbon/low greenhouse gas (GHG) emission health systems and healthcare supply chains that deliver high-quality healthcare, mobilize resources for resilient, low-carbon sustainable health systems, and facilitate collaboration, including initiatives such as the WHO-led Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH).”
This declaration is important for three key reasons. First, health systems around the world are on the front lines of the climate crisis and are increasingly impacted by floods, fires, storms, droughts, and a shifting burden of disease caused or exacerbated by climate change. The sector needs to build resilience to confront these crises. Second, the health sector contributes to more than five percent of net global greenhouse gas emissions; if it were a country, it would be the fifth largest climate polluter on the planet. The G20 countries are collectively responsible for more than three-quarters of these emissions, and their commitment to low-carbon health systems, including both supply chains and finance for the transition, helps set the entire sector on a trajectory that aligns with the Paris Agreement. Third, the ministers’ commitments build on growing momentum across the health sector to take action on climate, while bringing a number of countries who have yet to make such a commitment into alignment with the World Health Organization-led ATACH.
“The level of ambition in our response has to be proportionate to the magnitude of the huge challenge climate change represents to our health,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the World Health Organization (WHO). “The G20 commitment is an important step in that direction. It is a strong statement which we fully endorse. We look forward to building ongoing collaboration between the G20 Health Working Group and ATACH.”
Next month ADB plans to launch the Climate and Health Initiative in partnership with the Indian government and several stakeholders. It will be designed to operationalize the principles under a One Health framework. “We look forward to mobilizing and investing the financial resources that will support governments and health systems to put the principles of climate resilient, sustainable, low-carbon health care systems and supply chains into practice on the ground” said Dinesh Arora, Principal Health Specialist at ADB.
The G20 health ministers’ commitments and the Climate and Health Initiative both grew out of a proposal by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to establish a set of High-Level Principles for Health Care Climate Action. Health Care Without Harm and the engineering firm Arup collaborated with ADB to develop and propose the Principles and will continue to work in partnership to support their implementation.
“Health and environment must create a virtuous cycle of mutual benefit,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, founder of the Public Health Foundation of India, an Health Care Without Harm partner in India. “The high level G20 statement, calling for committed actions by governments to enable this is very welcome.”