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3rd June 2024

WHO adopts resolution stating climate change is a major threat to global health

Action on climate change and health recognised as a top priority by the World Health Organization

At the World Health Assembly (WHA), global health ministers and policy leads have made climate change and health one of six strategic objectives which will form a major focus of work for the WHO over the next four years. 

The announcement was followed by the adoption of a landmark climate and health resolution that recognises climate change as a major threat to global public health, and sets out a framework to promote health and build climate-resilient and sustainable health systems.

WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyseus said, “The climate crisis is a health crisis. And it’s not a hypothetical crisis in the future. It’s right here and right now. The health gains from climate mitigation and adaptation outweigh the costs and are a compelling argument for stronger climate action.”

The announcement follows a call from the editors of 300 health journals before COP28 for the climate and nature crisis to be recognised as a global public health emergency, and years of calls for greater action by civil society organisations, the director general and other senior leadership of WHO.

Adoption of the resolution will require governments to commit to a series of accelerated actions to address climate change, including assessing national vulnerabilities and adaptation opportunities, and developing a national plan to respond to these. A key component will be better collection of data on the health impact of climate change, to help shape policies and make the most effective investments. Governments should commit to integrating this climate data into existing early warning and other information systems. Finally, the resolution encourages health ministries to engage in broader climate discussions. Around 5% of global emissions stem from healthcare, leaving 95% from other sectors. It is therefore critical to work across governments to curb emissions, make the case for accelerated action, and maximise the health-benefits of climate action, such as from cleaner air. 

Following adoption of the resolution on climate and health, leaders from a number of global health organisations, including the Lancet Countdown and Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA), joined a strategic roundtable to accelerate the growing momentum on and development of the health program for COP29.

GCHA has strongly welcomed the resolution, but also highlighted some crucial issues not covered in the text, most notably the lack of any mention of how fossil fuels are driving the climate crisis, or a just transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy as a public health imperative. And, while there is recognition of health co-benefits, the resolution text remains vague on integrating climate into national health policies and health into national climate plans and strategies.

Following adoption of the resolution, the World Health Organization is expected to work on developing the Global Plan of Action on Climate Change and Health (GPoA) to drive this work throughout the organisation, alongside WHO’s strategy to make its own operations climate neutral by 2030.

“Looking ahead, the Global Climate and Health Alliance and our civil society members and colleagues stand ready to contribute to and support WHO’s development of the GPoA, where we’ll be seeking to address some of the resolution’s shortfalls,” said Rosie Tasker, from GCHA.

The GPoA is set to be developed following the WHA 77 meeting and adopted at the WHA78 in May 2025. 

Find out more about climate change and health at WHA here: https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2024/05/27/default-calendar/climate-health-events-at-wha77