New research from Forum for the Future and four healthcare giants calls on businesses, policymakers and the finance community to accelerate progress against the mounting threats to human health from the climate crisis.
Today, Forum for the Future, Bupa, Haleon, Reckitt and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) have launched updated guidance for companies on how to urgently tackle mounting threats to human health from the climate crisis.
Titled Driving Co-benefits for Climate and Health — 2022 Update: How the private sector can accelerate progress, the new report updates guidance originally published in November 2021 and continues to highlight that planetary health and human health are intrinsically linked. A healthy planet is a key foundation for a healthy population; and human health cannot be advanced without fresh water, clean air and a stable climate. The report aims to enable businesses to leverage their climate and health strategies in a way that simultaneously accelerates change across these interlinked challenges.
“Put simply, people cannot thrive on a dying planet,” says Forum for the Future Chief Executive Dr Sally Uren. “Across the globe, we’re seeing heatwaves of unprecedented severity, droughts destroying crops and food supplies, escalating air pollution, devastating wildfires and floods. [Last year], we put the spotlight on the urgent need for the private sector to step up with integrated net-zero strategies capable of delivering co-benefits for climate and health. Since then, some progress has been made — but not enough. This latest guidance will enable key actors to act faster and go further.”
Distilling the findings of over 5,000 multi-disciplinary papers and developed with input from businesses, NGOs, scientists, philanthropists and government advisors from across Europe, Africa and the US, the report recommends that:
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All businesses can: reduce their emissions and contribute towards cleaner air; invest in clean, green, safe buildings (new or retrofit); educate employees and customers about action they can take themselves; consider environmental and health outcomes as they design their products; leverage their influence to advocate for a more socially just and ecologically regenerative economy; collaborate with their suppliers on carbon reduction, protecting biodiversity and developing climate-adaptation strategies; engage academia and others to develop new business models capable of delivering not only profit, but social and environmental benefits; and educate their stakeholders on integrated risks from the climate and health crises.
Investors and philanthropists can: recognize that taking a proactive approach to tackling climate-induced health impacts would realize significant economic and health co-benefits, while also constituting smarter risk management; educate themselves on the risks of inaction; and identify where health can piggyback on, and strengthen, existing market initiatives.
Policymakers and the public sector can shift how public money (including subsidies and procurement) is spent — moving beyond ‘do no harm’ towards net-positive goals. They should also integrate their approaches to tackling health, climate and nature challenges to drive greater return on investment.
Beyond its focus on the role of the finance, political, investment and philanthropic community, the report also provides a suite of detailed recommendations for the food, tech, built environment and healthcare sectors — recognizing their potential for a disproportionately positive impact.
The impacts of climate change on health can be both acute and chronic. According to the CDC, severe weather events such as floods, heat stress or drought can have immediate and devastating impacts on health; while gradual rises in temperature can have longer-term impacts, exacerbating both non-communicable and infectious diseases.
Meanwhile, many of the drivers of climate change are also health issues in their own right. Air pollution from fossil-fuel power plants, transport and industry debilitates millions each year; while deforestation damages water supplies, depletes nutrients in soil and increases the risk of infectious diseases. A 2021 NRDC report estimates the financial costs to our health from fossil-fuel-generated air pollution and climate change surpass $820 billion in health costs each year in the US alone.
“Tackling climate and health together also offers an opportunity to address structural inequalities,” Dr. Uren continued. “Those communities most at risk from climate impacts are often those with less access to healthcare. Designing solutions for climate adaptation that also deliver health benefits could contribute to better equity for all.”
Healthcare companies have a key role to play in informing other companies about the impact of climate change on human health, and in influencing them to step up and take appropriate action.
“Healthcare companies have an important role to play in addressing the climate crisis,” said Glyn Richards, Group Director of Sustainability for Bupa Group. “We not only have a responsibility to reduce our own impact on the environment, but also to play a leadership role and influence others to make changes too. We know we have a lot of work to do, and we can’t do this alone; which is why we’re collaborating with partners to accelerate action. We hope this report will encourage and support others to do the same.”
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 13 million people die each year from environmentally related health risks; roughly 99 percent of the world’s population breathe polluted air; and in 2020, 1 in 4 people lacked access to safely managed drinking water in their homes. Action Against Hunger estimates more than 3.1 billion people don’t have access to enough safe and nutritious food.
“The link between the planet’s health and human health can no longer be ignored,” says David Croft, Global Head of Sustainability at Reckitt. “Businesses can help by investing in research and innovation to try to ensure we stay one step ahead of growing health threats, from water scarcity to insect-borne diseases, so that brands and products continue to help people protect themselves. The only way to solve these interconnected crises is by working together to drive solutions at scale.”