Health Care Without Harm at COP28

On December 3, 2023, and for the first time in the history of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP28 is hosting a dedicated Health Day.

Collectively, health systems are one of the largest emitters of carbon - they account for roughly 5% of global emissions, 84% of which derives from fossil fuel combustion. If health care were a country it would be the fifth largest emitter on the planet. The commitment to deliver an official, Presidency-level health program at COP28 is a huge step to drive the decarbonization of health systems, building on Health Care Without Harm and others’ work establishing the COP26 Health Programme and the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health.

Yet the health sector's role is broader than simply cutting its emissions. Health professionals are some of the most trusted voices in society, championing causes for healthier people and a healthier planet. They can be a beacon of hope amidst the climate crisis, setting an example within their sector, and for a wider societal transition away from fossil fuels. Momentum is building - this year organizations representing over 46 million health care staff called for the phasing out of oil, coal, and gas by signing the COP28 Open Letter on Fossil Fuels.

Health Care Without Harm, along with its partner organizations, will participate at COP28 with a 12-person delegation from nine countries (Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines, the United States, Mexico, India, and the UK).

Agenda of events

Health Care Without Harm global network's delegation will be participating in a series of events throughout COP, including the plenary session that opens Health Day, roundtables, and official side events.

Health Care Without Harm at COP28

The climate crisis is a public health crisis which will set back decades of progress in life expectancy and well-being. 

The window of opportunity to act is closing, but health professionals are some of the most trusted voices in society, and when they champion the cause of the Earth, people listen. We must build on health’s leadership role in making this transition rapid and just. We must also build on the momentum within the sector to decarbonise and develop resilience in both high- and low-emitting countries.

Resisting fossil fuel interests

As historic and welcome as the Health Day on the 3rd of December is, we need to ensure discussion of our own emissions is a springboard for a broader effort by the health sector to protect people from the public health consequences of fossil fuel combustion in all sectors, which is driving both deadly climate change and air pollution. Time is of the essence as human health is already suffering - 7 million die prematurely each year from air pollution, for example.

Adaptation is essential for communities, countries and health systems alike. At the same time, the health sector cannot adapt its way out of a 3-degree world. Solutions like carbon capture may hold part of the key, but they have not been tested at scale. We need to step away from false solutions and focus on the only certain solution - the urgent phasing out of fossil fuels and a just transition to clean, renewable, healthy, affordable and accessible energy.

Health at the heart of climate action

Diverse health professionals are united behind the need to phase out fossil fuels to protect the health of their populations, as demonstrated by the overwhelming number of signatories to the COP28 Open Letter on Fossil Fuels. Phasing out oil, coal and gas will improve health and save billions of dollars.

For COP28, Health Care Without Harm’s has three core messages:

1 - Fossil fuels and health:

Fossil fuels are the primary driver of the climate crisis, air pollution, and the negative health impacts of both, and there must be a rapid, just transition to clean, renewable energy to protect people’s and the planet’s health.

In partnership with the Global and Climate Health Alliance, Health Care Without Harm facilitated the COP28 Open Letter on Fossil Fuels, addressed to President-designate Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber and the world leaders from the global medical and health community.

Social media card

The letter was launched on November 1, 2023. It was signed by organizations representing 46.3 million health care workers from 135 countries, including Amref Health Africa, the International Council of Nurses, the International Federation of Medical Students’ AssocIations, the International Pediatric Association, Médecins Sans Frontières, Organismo Andino de Salud (Andean Health Organization), World Federation for Public Health Associations, and the World Medical Association.

The letter is available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Arabic. We also have a background reference to the letter, which is in English and can be found here.

It was widely reported including in The New York Times, The Daily Nation, Infobae, The Indian Express, The Times of India, La Vanguardia, WION, and Health Policy Watch

2 - Health care decarbonization and resilience

The health care sector, which contributes to roughly 5% of net global emissions, has an important role to play in putting the world on a trajectory to zero emissions, particularly in the high-emitting countries. It needs to do so by decarbonizing its operations and its supply chain, while advocating for a broader societal shift to net zero.

Initiatives include:

  • Health Care Climate Learning Initiative: Browse our videos and case studies to learn how health care around the world is implementing decarbonization and climate resilience
  • Impact stories that inspire: Fourteen stories of people working to build more sustainable health care systems. These stories were produced as part of the Sustainable Health in Procurement Project (SHiPP) program, developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with Health Care Without Harm and funded by the Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
  • The Climate Impact Checkup tool and its online course has been specially developed to support health care facilities and systems worldwide in their journey toward sustainable, resilient, and low-carbon health care.
  • Global Green and Healthy Hospitals: The library of the Global Green and Health Hospitals (GGHH) network includes over 250 case studies of successful sustainability projects from around the world. Written by GGHH members, these case studies showcase innovation, describe strategies and processes, discuss challenges, and inspire the global network.

Momentum is growing behind decarbonization and resilience in health care, with 76 countries now part of the Alliance for Action on Climate Change and Health (ATACH), and more than 25 committed to net zero health care. Around the world, the hospitals and health systems participating in Race to Zero demonstrate growing commitment and action from non-state actors in the health sector to get to net zero.

We now need to accelerate progress and turn ambition into action all over the world. The health funding announcements coming out of COP28 are an important step in the right direction, but more is needed, as the health care sector cannot do it alone. National health budgets, international health finance, climate finance, and private sector investment all need to be retooled to help the health sector adapt to growing climate impacts and get on an accelerated trajectory to zero emission.

3 - Climate and health movement leadership

The health sector is increasingly engaged in climate advocacy, putting a human face on the climate crisis and bringing both scientific expertise and a history of working for social change to the table.

Health Care Without Harm is helping set the agenda on fossil fuels, influence the G20, and define a just transition. From serving on the steering committee of ATACH to providing guides for health professionals on how to organize, we are working to build a sector-wide movement of doctors, nurses, health workers, hospitals and health organizations that is part of a broader civil society movement advocating for a just transition.

We are also working with health systems, ministries of health and international organizations to decarbonize health care, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and build resilient, zero emissions health systems.

It’s exciting to see so many new health organizations getting involved on climate and health, including attending the COP. We are pleased to be working in collaboration with many leading health organizations to build a unified health voice for a just transition to a healthy climate.

Health Care Without Harm's delegation at COP28

The Health Care Without Harm's delegation for COP28 is its largest and most diverse ever, with 12 members from Australia, Brazil, India, Mexico, South Africa, South East Asia, the UK, and the United States.

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