Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down climate change efforts by various countries, according to the 2021 WHO health and climate change global survey report released on Monday.
The report is based on a survey conducted every three years, and was published at the ongoing COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow. In the 2021 survey, 95 countries took part.
It showed that while countries have begun to prioritise health in their efforts to protect people from the impact of climate change, only about a quarter were fully able to implement their national health and climate change plans or strategies.
More than half of countries (52 per cent) reported that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on their work to protect health from climate change, as the countries had to divert health personnel and resources. It still continues to threaten national health authorities’ abilities to plan and prepare for climate-related health stresses and shocks.
Just one third of country respondents (33 per cent) have taken the opportunity to include climate change and health considerations in their plans for recovery from Covid-19.
“The new WHO survey highlights how many countries are left unsupported and unprepared to deal with the health impacts of climate change. We are here at COP 26 to urge the world to better support countries in need, and to ensure that together we do a better job of protecting people from the biggest threat to human health we face today,” WHO Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, Dr Maria Neira, said in a statement.
Countries’ inability to protect health from climate change is most harmful for their most disadvantaged groups, including ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants and displaced people, older people, and many women and children.
“The health arguments for increased climate action are very clear. For example, almost 80 per cent of deaths caused by air pollution could be avoided if current air pollution levels were reduced to the WHO Air Quality guidelines,” said Dr Neira.
Besides Covid, lack of funding (70 per cent of countries) and insufficient human resource capacity (more than 30 per cent of countries) are major barriers to progress, the WHO report said.
The survey showed that less than 40 per cent of countries currently include weather and climate information in their health surveillance systems for climate sensitive diseases, while only a third have climate-informed health early warning systems for heat-related illness (33 per cent) or injury and mortality from extreme weather events (30 per cent) despite strong evidence that these risks are increasing around the world.
Moreover, only a small proportion of ministries of health in low-and lower-middle-income countries (28 per cent) are currently receiving international funds to support climate change and health work. Access to international funds, including multilateral climate funds, needs to be substantially scaled up to reach the levels required to protect health from climate change, the report suggested.
The report also noted a potential missed opportunity to identify and optimise the health benefits of adaptation and mitigation efforts in other sectors, which could have fed into a clean, healthy recovery from Covid-19: structural and social determinants of health, such as education, equity, gender, urban planning, housing, energy and transportation systems was represented in fewer than half of the established multisectoral mechanisms.