CSH@COP26 Day 9: International commitments to sustainable healthcare and climate vulnerability in women and girls

9 November was the COP26 Gender, Science and Innovation day, with health selected as a priority for science. Rachel Stancliffe, Dr Rosie Spooner, and CSH associates, Rebecca Gibbs and Dr Georgie Sowman were in attendance. 

The Climate Action for Health Presidency Event, organised by the UNFCCC, emphasised the urgent need to place health at the centre of climate negotiations and policy. The event is the first Presidency Event in the history of COP that has focused on health. 

During the session, which was opened by Maria Naira, the action called for by healthcare workers was emphasised with the delivery of The Healthy Climate Prescription open letter to Heads of State. It is signed by over 600 organisations representing over 46 million healthcare workers worldwide, and calls for urgent climate action to protect health.

healthy climate prescription letter

A video created by the Global Alliance on Climate and Health delivered a message from healthcare workers who are losing patients to the climate emergency, and losing patience with world leaders on climate action.

Panel discussions highlighted the challenges and barriers to building stronger health systems for a more sustainable and healthy future. These include gaps in funding investment, siloed work between sectors, and the need for education and leadership of healthcare workers at every level and in every nation. Advocacy by the healthcare sector was cited as crucial, given health workers’ unique role in frontline care and the high level of public trust they have.

Prior to COP26, the World Health Organization asked countries to commit to publishing a plan for health adaption based on their vulnerabilities; setting out how they would reduce emissions and air pollution; and setting a target date to reach net zero emissions. At the Presidency Event the WHO announced that 50 countries have committed to action, with 47 committing to health resilience and 14 setting a target date for net zero healthcare. By the end of the day, this had risen to 52 (thanks in part to CSH’s Fellow, Dr Rosie Spooner).

In the UK pavilion, the panel discussion on net zero emphasised the importance of a gender-sensitive transition, a just transition, and women's involvement in all critical climate solutions. A gender-sensitive transition is crucial within the framework of work and leadership in the face of the climate and nature emergency. In the words of Hauwa Mustapha, researcher and coordinator of climate change and just transition for the Nigerian Labour Congress, “there has never been a creche at COP.”

The WHO session ‘Addressing adaptation through health protection’ set out in detail the central role that gender plays in climate vulnerability. Climate change drives a dizzying array of negative outcomes for women and girls, from gender-based violence to premature labour and spontaneous abortion. It also negatively impacts key social determinants for global female health, such as forced marriage and education.

During this event Dave McConalogue, UK Government health lead for COP26, said, “if you’re tackling the climate crisis, you’re working on health,” yet currently just 0.5% of general adaptation funds find their way to health-related projects. Whilst all projects funded by the Adaptation Fund – one of the sources of adaptation finance – must demonstrate that they will not harm public health, the degree to which health and health provision is out in the cold is shocking and entirely out of scale with the increasingly deadly nature of the climate crisis. Saliha Dobardzic from the Adaptation Fund was frank about how much she had learnt from the panel, so fingers crossed for a swift shift towards human health in adaptation spending.


Dr Georgie Sowman & Rebecca Gibbs

How CSH can support the transition to net zero healthcare:

Since 2008 the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare has engaged healthcare professionals, health systems, and the wider community to understand the connections between health and environment and reduce healthcare’s resource footprint. Guided by the four principles of sustainable clinical practice (prevention; patient empowerment and self care; lean systems; and low carbon alternatives) our programmes equip healthcare professionals and organisations with methods and metrics for sustainable models of care:

Stay up to date with health news from COP26

Through the representation of 10 members of our network, the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) is attending the Blue Zone negotiations and presidency programme events as an official observer. To increase transparency and feedback to the health community throughout the COP26 summit, CSH is publishing a daily recap blog summarising the latest developments, health implications, and potential solutions. These blogs are linked from our CSH@COP26 page.