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COP28 – a healthy opportunity?

COP28 – a healthy opportunity?

By Sophie Wheale

As the planet warms, the link between health and climate is only set to strengthen. Diseases which have long been confined to sub-Saharan Africa or tropical regions are now showing signs of spreading to new areas, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that mosquitos, which spread disease such as dengue fever and malaria, could benefit as a result of a warming planet.

According to the WHO climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. In economic terms, the direct impact of climate change on health could reach US$ 2–4 billion per annum within seven years. Just as we see in other areas of climate change, the impact and cost will vary greatly across countries and regions, with developing countries likely to be hardest hit.

As governments and their health systems attempt to cope with these added pressures, many will be looking to the healthcare industry to provide solutions to future challenges. Consideration will need to be given to increasing production of medicines, targeting new and growing diseases. This will extend to the challenge of how we extract natural resources for critical medicines, ensuring that vital resources are preserved and that the extraction process does not contribute further to greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite these interconnected challenges, healthcare has had a lower profile within the climate change debate, and particularly within the COP process in previous years. This year’s COP28 is breaking new ground with the first ever Health Day and climate-health ministerial, and a COP28 Health Pavilion hosted by WHO and the Wellcome Trust.

This is a huge opportunity for industry to be a part of a global conversation that highlights the vital role of healthcare, and the future needs of the industry highlighting:

  • The ramp up in R&D investment required to fight emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), including mosquito-borne and water-borne diseases.

  • The need for R&D directed at better use and storage of medicines, which include using heat-stable products in climate-affected settings, given the lack of cold-chain supply networks.

  • The need to improve global access to healthcare products – vaccines, treatments and diagnostics – to ensure equitable access for those in areas hardest-hit by climate change. The Covid-19 response and availability of vaccines in developing countries provides valuable lessons.

  • The role of the pharmaceutical industry in reducing their greenhouse gas and water usage impact, from manufacturing practices. Today, the sector accounts for almost one quarter (23%) of global water usage and puts out similar GHG amounts to that of the global automotive industry. There is also the challenge of extraction and processing of raw materials from the ground, which often require energy intensive processes.

COP28 is expected to lift the political profile of the climate-health nexus and bring the climate-health agenda firmly into the mainstream. The question is will governments and industry find the framework and funding to tackle the interconnected challenge of climate change and health?

For more COP28 insights and updates, subscribe to our COP Uncovered newsletter here or email to learn how we can help your organisation build an effective COP28 campaign.

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