Combatting Climate Crisis: An Opportunity for Health Sector and Civil Society Leadership

Seminar and High-level Roundtable | April 24, 2023

Zoom link to join:

Date: April 24, 2023

Time: 9 : 00 to 15:30 IST (In-person Event)

Venue: Amriteshwari Hall, A Block Main Building, Tower 2, Fifth Floor, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (Amrita Hospital),Ponekkara Road, Edappally, Kochi – 682041.

Background Note

The proposed seminar and high level C20 roundtable at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences will bring the 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.


The climate crisis is a health crisis as it threatens our air, food, water, shelter, and security—the basic necessities that human lives depend on. Human health is deeply interconnected with planetary health and this connection is best vocalized by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration that “Climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.”

Hence, there is an 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, including:

  • Increased air pollution: This contributes to respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 
  • Extreme weather events: Increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, cause injuries, deaths, and mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
  • Infectious disease spread: There is a noticeable increase in the spread of infectious diseases, such as dengue fever, Zika virus, and malaria, as rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns create optimal conditions for the spread of vector borne diseases.
  • Food and water insecurity: There is a marked reduction in crop yields due to water scarcity, leading to food insecurity in many parts of the world, resulting in malnutrition, stunted growth, and other health problems.

The marginalized and impoverished are even more vulnerable and severely affected by climate change. They usually live in poor housing conditions in hazard prone areas, lack the financial resources to protect themselves and their families, or policy advocates to speak on their behalf. Oftentimes they have limited access to health care and other services that can help them cope. 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”. The climate risk index shows that seven out of the ten countries most impacted by extreme weather events are Low- and Middle-Income countries. Climate change can also pose significant risks to national security, particularly in regions with existing political instability.

Health care sits at the epicenter of our collective climate trauma. Its facilities take care of people who are injured in extreme weather events, people who are suffering from respiratory diseases and asthma from air pollution, as well as children and the elderly who are more vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Extreme climate events not only threaten people’s health but also health care’s own infrastructure and capacity to respond. We have seen how extreme weather events are catching our health systems off guard and crippling them at a time when people need them the most. From Hurricane Sandy in the USA in 2012 to the floods in Pakistan in 2023, the devastating effects of extreme weather events on health systems—such as compromised patient care, evacuation of patients, damage to medicines, medical equipment, and health facilities—have been well documented. There is also a paradox here. While the health sector plays a central role in responding to the climate crisis, the sector itself contributes to nearly 5% of net global greenhouse gas emissions.And health care’s climate footprint is only growing.

Since 2020, health professionals have been at the forefront of responding to twin crises—COVID-19 and the climate crisis. The devastation we have witnessed from COVID-19, while hugely significant, pales in comparison to the scale of devastation the climate crisis is unlocking. If left unchecked, it will affect our families, countries, societies, and the planet. In this regard the health sector has a unique opportunity to combat climate change because it is well positioned to understand the health impacts of climate change and to take action to protect public health.

For complete Background Note, click here