At this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA), global leaders recognized climate change as the greatest health challenge of the 21st century. Leaders have called on the global health community – frontline health workers, ministries of health, intergovernmental and nongovernmental health organizations, health academics, foundations and donors, and wider public and private health sector organizations – to address climate change through: 1,2
Advocacy and Partnership – coordinating with international and regional public health agencies, including those within the United Nations system, to ensure health is appropriately represented in the climate change agenda and disseminating information of the threats that climate change presents while promoting opportunities to cut carbon emissions.
Monitoring science and evidence – conducting reviews to define the link between climate change and health.
Supporting countries to protect human health from climate change – investing in and strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of health systems to ensure optimal health care provision in an ever-evolving landscape, and directly tackling the diverse array of health repercussions stemming from the climate change crisis to safeguard human well-being. Health system resilience can be defined as the capacity of health actors, institutions and populations to prepare for and effectively respond to crises, maintain core functions when a crisis hit, and, informed by lessons learned during the crisis, reorganize if conditions require it.3
Building capacity to mitigate climate change – reduce health vulnerability to climate change and promoting health while reducing carbon emissions.
Before this global call to action, many private health sector companies took initial steps to address climate change, as the industry witnessed a cascade of climate mitigation strategies and carbon neutrality commitments. These strategies continue to grow as regulations in the European Union and United States mandate large companies, and small and medium-sized enterprises, to undergo external auditing for ESG (environmental, social and governance) reports as well as implement mandatory sustainability strategies to enhance transparency and benchmarking of companies contributions to climate change and foster strategies to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for negative climate impacts.
However, as a result, many private health sector companies’ strategies are heavily concentrated on climate mitigation activities4 – making the impact of climate change less severe by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and/or enhancing the storage of these gases. Thereby, companies existing strategies neglect activities for climate adaptation, or embed a climate lens across the full scope of the health care business. Climate adaptation, alongside climate mitigation activities, is an essential element of holistic climate action to foster sustainable and equitable impact for our populations via its health investments.
To maximize health AND climate impact, private health industry partners should complement their ongoing ‘green’ operational investments with a business-integrated approach that considers and addresses climate across business divisions – research and development, supply chain and market access, patient engagement, and policy – as well as therapeutic area strategies and health programming.
Integrating a climate change lens into its consumer and business strategy will ensure priority patient populations have sustained access to the health services they need – medications, care and treatment services – and reduced risk of morbidity and mortality, despite worsening climate and rising climate-related risk factors. Additionally, it’s repeatedly been shown that climate change has a disproportionate impact on populations who are most underserved across and within high-income as well as low- and middle-income countries.5 Therefore, addressing the impact of climate change within and across priority patient populations is an essential component to health equity strategies and equity-focused initiatives.
Strategically integrating climate into health strategies will help position private health companies as key partners to stakeholders across sectors and at all levels of the health system (patient to policy), working to prevent further morbidity and mortality, while advancing the climate agenda. Despite the global call and rising awareness of the impact of climate change, taking a comprehensive approach to climate change will set companies apart from their peer pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies and establish the company as a leader in the space.
The climate change and health challenge
There is growing evidence demonstrating the direct and indirect impact of climate change on health outcomes, with strong relevance to many priority therapeutic areas and client’s product portfolios, including:
- cardiovascular and other cardiometabolic diseases
- infectious diseases
- sexual and reproductive health and maternal health
- mental health
Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress, alone.6 Additionally, climate change influences wider social networks, socio-economic and environmental determinants of health, and health systems – including supply chains and global security systems as well as general health system resilience – exacerbating negative population health outcomes and health disparities and inequities.
Case Study – Diabetes & Climate Change
Due to impaired responses to heat stress – including compromised vasodilation and sweating, insulin resistance and chronic low-grade inflammation – people with diabetes are particularly vulnerable to climate-related environmental risk factors – extreme weather events, heat waves and air pollution – and are at an increased risks of morbidity and mortality.7
Additionally, the impact of climate change will exacerbate health inequities between and within high and low- and middle-income countries, as climate change exacerbates access barriers and social determinants of health.
Populations within countries that are struggling to implement climate adaptation strategies and strengthen the resilience of their local health systems and economies remain vulnerable to climate change’s impact. For example, some healthcare systems remain vulnerable to climate-related shocks and crises, increasing the risk of inconsistent access to cold chains to safely deliver insulin amid rising temperatures and heatwaves.Read more
Moreover, despite decades of climate mitigation efforts, climate change is worsening. Outcomes of worsening climate will increase in frequency and severity over time and have more significant impacts on the human population in the short and long-term. For example, new research released in 2023 noted that Earth’s temperature will likely pass the 1.5°degrees Celsius threshold between now and 2027, when earlier projections predicated hitting this threshold by 2050. This threshold of warming remains a key tipping point, as chances of extreme flooding, drought, fires and food shortages increase dramatically. Temperature rises over 2° degrees Celsius will likely bring catastrophic and potentially irreversible impacts, including pushing 3 billion people into “chronic water scarcity” – we are expected to reach this point by mid-century if dramatic changes do not occur.8,9
The global population must increase its investment in climate adaptation strategies to limit the impact of climate change on populations around the world, while maintaining committed invest in climate mitigation approaches. Many academic, non-profit and private research institutes – Wellcome Trust, The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate change, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and London School of Health and Tropical Medicine – continue to invest in research to reveal the biological, emotional and systemic impact of climate change on population health in the short-term and long-term to ensure global health actors can foster and drive evidence-based climate action strategies, solutions and innovations.
Example strategies & programs addressing climate change and health
Many private sector companies are already working to implement comprehensive climate action strategies, as they understand priority consumer populations require tailored support as climate change continues to worsen and impact their everyday lives. While these companies are not necessarily early adopters, as the cry for climate action reigns decades long, these companies currently set themselves apart in the wider climate action & innovation landscape.
A global collaborative network of almost 100 mayors from the world’s leading cities working to implement inclusive and science-based climate action strategies. As part of their strategy, C40 cities is raising climate ambition, fostering innovation, investing in high-impact accelerators to build healthier and more resilient communities and implementing programs that address socio-economic barriers to support communities most vulnerable to climate change .
A private foundation working to empower communities and build resilient and ‘green’ communities by (1) equitably connecting them to renewable electricity, creating green jobs and cutting emissions as well as (2) improving climate resilience and equipping communities to adapt to climate change through pandemic prevention, regenerative agriculture and scaling local innovations. The Foundation is pioneering collaborations and partnerships to raise and deploy climate finance and action.
A multinational private technology company that’s leveraging its expertise and reach to drive positive environmental outcomes throughout the business and foster sustainable populations as well as resilient and low-carbon systems. Through this commitment, Google aims to foster circular economies, nudge sustainable decision-making among consumers, leverage AI to unlock scientific discoveries and scale climate solutions, invest in NGOs and startups with ambitious climate action projects as well as protect and enhance nature and biodiversity to reduce the impact of severe weather events.
Rabin Martin’s Commitment
As noted, climate action must be inclusive of both climate mitigation and adaptation activities to ensure the safety and health of populations and wider systems around the globe. Rabin Martin is committed to helping its clients embed a climate lens throughout their business and product pipeline to foster a holistic and tailored approach to strengthening resilient health systems and equitably improving patient health outcomes across priority markets. Through our work, Rabin Martin aims to push its clients to the forefront of the global climate action landscape and foster collaborative partnerships with key leaders to accelerate and catalyze climate engagement worldwide.
1Climate change (who.int)
2WHO issues urgent call for global climate action to create resilient and sustainable health systems
3What is a resilient health system? Lessons from Ebola – The Lancet
4Mitigation and Adaptation | Solutions – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet (nasa.gov)
5Envisioning environmental equity: climate change, health, and racial justice – The Lancet
6Climate change (who.int)
7Diabetes and climate change: current evidence and implications for people with diabetes, clinicians and policy stakeholders
8Global temperatures set to reach new records in next five years | World Meteorological Organization (wmo.int)
9Global warming set to break key 1.5C limit for first time – BBC News