Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, 24 April 2023: The day-long seminar and high level policy C20 roundtable “Combatting the Climate Crisis: An Opportunity for Health Sector and Civil Society Leadership” held at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences on 24th April 2023, brought leaders from the health care sector and civil society groups to frame the climate crisis from the health lens and provide a pathway of solutions that prioritize health-based climate actions.
“Climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century” – this World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration highlights the urgency to understand the links between climate change and health impacts and develop pathways for civil society to mitigate and adapt to them in a sustainable manner. Climate change affects health outcomes in several ways that include: increased air pollution, extreme weather events, spread of infectious diseases, food and water insecurity, and other health problems.
The marginalized and impoverished are even more vulnerable and severely affected by climate change. According to a World Bank estimate, “Climate change could drag more than 100 million people back into extreme poverty by 2030”, and much of this reversal would be due to the “negative impacts on health”.
Health care plays a pivotal role in responding to the climate crisis, with its facilities taking care of those injured in extreme weather events, respiratory diseases from air pollution and children and elderly who are more vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Extreme weather events also threaten health care infrastructure, crippling them when needed most. Though the sector itself contributes to nearly 5% of net global greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s growing. The seminar discussed this and more.
Dr Jaideep C Menon, Professor, Department of Cardiology, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, welcomed delegates, and Sanjay Vashist, Director, CANSA, set the context on why the climate crisis is a health crisis: “Climate change is a threat multiplier. We have seen global temperature rise, cyclones, heat waves, and the uncertainty of weather phenomena. Our planet has 6.5 years before she goes to the ICU. It compromises our ability to cope, that’s why important to act on climate change and its health impacts.”
Ms. Tinku Biswal, IAS, Principal Secretary Health, Government of Kerala, in her keynote address on the vital role of the health department in climate change, said: “Kerala is a party in the race-to-zero program because we are hit hard by the climate crisis due to our geographical location. Our experience from 2019 has taught us how to minimize health impacts, how not to aggravate disease, so that camps do not become another source for infection. Impacts of climate change, extreme heat and precipitation changes, enable diseases to grow. The state has understood the need for building climate resilience, and a one health program. While we have strength at the local governance level, we are trying to ensure that we build resilience at the local level, and in planning the program not to contribute further to the climate crisis.”
Josh Karliner, Director of Global Partnerships, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) in his keynote address ‘Why health sector should take the lead’, highlghted the importance of climate resilience being central to healthcare delivery. “Our health systems are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and the climate crisis requires our healthcare delivery to be robust. The climate footprint of the health sector is significant, hence healthcare needs to decouple it’s growth from climate emissions, taking into account the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), where richer countries from G20 need to take action quickly, in a rapid transition.”
The keynote addresses were followed by a panel discussion on Health-Driven Climate Solutions: Case Studies on Climate Actions with Health Benefits, moderated by Shweta Narayan, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH). Panelists were Dr Manu MS, State Nodal Officer on Climate Change and Health, Department of Health Services, Government of Kerala, C Jayakumar, Executive Director, Thanal, Shibu K Nair, Regional Organics Campaigner, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Asia Pacific (GAIA), Dr Shekhar Kuriakose, Member Secretary, Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (ex-officio) & Head, Kerala State Emergency Operations Centre, Dr. Aswathy S. Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, and Sarbjit Singh Sahota, Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist, UNICEF India.
Dr Shekhar Kuriakose shared how “…Kerala took a view of heat as a state-specific disaster. This put into a framework can help facilitate the process to act on it . All actions converge at a local level. Information of heat know-how has to be available to local governments and we started engaging with them, and extended training to local governments. With legal sanctity and an action plan all departments are involved. The central review of 32 diff heat action plans, made special mention of Kerala. Our geo portal has a basket of solutions to reduce climate change impacts.”
The second session on ‘Prioritizing Health: Integrating Health into Climate Action’, moderated by Sanjay Vashist, had speakers Dr Aditi Mukherji, Director, Climate Change Impact Platform, CGIAR, & IPCC Scientist; Prof. Vinod Menon, International Coordinator, C20 Working Group on Sustainable and Resilient Communities; Dr Joy Elamon, Director General, Kerala Institute of Local Administration; Vikrant Mahajan, CEO, SPHERE India; Dr Merlin Blessan, Associate Professor, Department of Infectious Diseases, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences; Dr Ravikant Singh, Officer In-charge, Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital & Research Centre, Muzaffarpur, and Alison Doig, of Health and Climate Network.
Prof Vinod Menon mentioned that with increasing disaster frequency, developing community preparedness can strengthen resilience, and Dr Ravikant Singh, from Doctors For You, said that hospitals need lots of infrastructural changes to combat climate change, their location is also important, as also warehousing facility to store medical equipment. He also said that donor fatigue is a real challenge and needs to be addressed. Vikrant Mahajan emphasized on developing climate resilience in sectors like WASH and agriculture as they also impact health. Dr Joy Elamon spoke of integrating climate proofing in the annual development plans prepared by local governments, and how One Health holistic approach is being implemented in local action plans.
Dr. Sudha Arlikatti, Professor and Research Head, Amrita School for Sustainable Development, summed up the proceedings in her closing remarks, that the health sector and civil society must work together to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change in order to keep health at the heart of climate action. Some pathways to achieve this goal include: Integrate health into climate policies and advocate for climate-smart policies, promote low-carbon healthcare, build health system resilience, promote climate literacy and public awareness campaigns, collaboration with health professionals, invest in public health research, community-based initiatives, support vulnerable communities, encourage sustainable lifestyles.
Post lunch, ahigh-level round table discussion on C20 policy recommendations for prioritizing and integrating health into climate action, focussed on the pathways of climate action that centered around health and to bring the health community and the civil society together to draft a set of policy recommendations to be shared with the G20 group.