Global health and climate change: how to achieve progress on both through smarter investments

In a report released at a meeting of climate change and health experts on March 30, Naomi Beyeler, MPH, MCP, Director of the Climate Change and Health Initative at the UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences, and Marco Schäferhoff, PhD, a principal at Open Consultants, made the case that global climate change funds should support health, and that global health funds should support efforts to address climate change.

The report explores how the international community can best use available financing mechanisms to protect human health from climate-related threats and simultaneously achieve health and climate goals.

“You need more money overall, and you need to use your money more wisely. It’s more and better,” Beyeler explained.

International climate funding goes to sectors including transportation, energy and agriculture –  where savvy investments could bring improvements to public health through cleaner air and healthier foods.

International health funding aims to help health systems meet demand, including in the face of challenges such as drug shortages. Too often these efforts overlook the need to prepare for emerging climate-related threats – heat-related illness, tropical disease, polluted floodwaters, more frequent natural disasters, and so on.

“If you think wisely about the overlap, you could use the same money more effectively to achieve the goals that we have in both fields,” Beyeler said.

There is good news, at least when it comes to better using limited funding: Synergistic funding for these two challenges can develop quickly.

Consider how international funding decisions get made. National governments and civil society develop project proposals for international funding bodies. These funds provide guidance to steer partners toward successful, evidence-based efforts. Right now, there is almost no guidance on how to incorporate climate change into health programs or how to include health in climate projects.

International development funders, according to the report, should develop this kind of guidance: helping countries create a clear vision for mutually advancing climate and health goals. This is just one among many things donors can do to meet the needs of countries.

National governments can also drive change. Whereas now, ministries of environment may focus on developing climate proposals, and ministries of health may focus on health proposals, bringing these experts together to identify shared goals in funding applications will create demand for more integrated finance from big donors.

Non-governmental organizations also have a role to play in advocating for more finance by convening dialogue between experts in both fields and bringing about new ideas.

“These things are win-win,” Beyeler said.