Home Opinion Sustainable Development Goals: Tackling Climate Change & Right To Health

Sustainable Development Goals: Tackling Climate Change & Right To Health

Sarobindo Malhotra, Co-founder, Advisory for Sustainable and Responsible Business (ASRB), explores the relationship between SDG’s - climate change, human rights, including right to health, identifies health losses caused by climate change and how these can be addressed in all climate actions

Image credit: Sarobindo M.

Sustainable development Goal 1-No poverty, Goal 3-Good health & well being, Goal13-Action on climate change and impacts, Goal16- Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions are interlinked with climate change & human rights.

Climate-Change related hazards destroy ecosystems, creating shortage of food, hunger & poverty resulting in higher global maternal maternity ratio & multiple diseases. By 2050, climate change would cause an additional 250,000 deaths each year, from diarrhea, malaria, heat stress & under-nutrition.

Climate change is deepening social inequalities and impacting the human rights, including right to health of the most vulnerable populations, including the poor, indigenous peoples, women and children. Poverty and hunger result in exploitation, trafficking & various forms of violence against children. Equal justice to all is denied especially to poor and vulnerable. It is increasing corruption and bribery.

Human Rights 

The right to health is an inclusive right, extending not only to timely and appropriate health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to quality food, safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information.

Climate Change and Health

Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health. It has the potential to reverse the health gains from economic developments.

It threatens human health, well-being and ways of life in many ways, including through extreme weather events, heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfire, resulting in decreased air and water quality, fresh water scarcity and diseases transmitted by insects, food, and water farther and faster. 

Who is at risk?

Climate change disproportionately affected the poor and marginalized the unhealthy, the undernourished, the most vulnerable women and children, the elderly, migrants, persons with disabilities and those living in developing countries.

Health Risks

One of the biggest barriers that stood in the way of realizing the right to health is poverty. Climate change effects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Extreme high air temperatures leads to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, increases airborne allergens. It increase the risks of water-related illnesses-like malaria, cholera, dengue.

Less obvious effects also could take a toll on human health-from physical and mental problems that can result from extreme weather events which lower nutritional value of some crops.

Climate change not only effects health through direct means but through indirect means such as increased migration, food shortages and reduced social mobility.

Case-1

The Zika virus epidemic in South America and the impact of heat waves in Europe, clearly demonstrate the devastating effects that result when the public and the health systems they rely on are unprepared, compounding the health effects. More than half of the world population lived in an area where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the principal vector for Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, were present.

Case -2

In 2015, there was a disrupted rainy season in Chad, which had had a negative impact on access to food and health of nomadic communities.  This had affected women and children particularly.  Medicinal plants had become rare or had completely disappeared.

Case-3

The poorest households in the world are forced to rely on the most polluting energy sources just for everyday cooking.  Half of all health facilities in some African countries did not have reliable access to electricity and clean running water.  This was a hazard that came under the spotlight during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Case-4

As per a study climate change could lead to more than 1,200 extra deaths a year in the UK by 2050 as global warming causes fruit and vegetable shortages. The typical British diet will deteriorate as the effects of climate change hit crop production, resulting in supply chain shortages and pushing up prices. This will increase health issues for which poor diet is a risk factor.

What can we do?

Solutions to climate change and health have to be local and locally informed, and have to uphold human dignity.

Actions

Some actions to combat health effects of climate change by stakeholders:

  1. Partnerships
  • Coordinate with partner agencies within the UN system, countries and businesses to ensure that health is properly represented in the climate change agenda.
  1. Finance and Equality
  • Climate finance should support measures that brought health co-benefits and respected gender equality and equity principles at all levels.
  • Healthcare funding to be innovative, long-term and additional, without adverting funds from budgets designated for poverty reduction and sustainable development
  1. Sustainable & Resilient Healthcare System
  • More work is urgently needed to prepare the personnel, the systems and the institutions involved in health care, for the implications of climate change.” The health service is currently ill prepared.
  • Government and businesses should jointly launch an effort to create sustainable and resilient hospitals in the face of climate change through a public-private partnership.
  • Hospitals must build capacity to serve patients during more frequent heat waves, floods, droughts and other natural disasters.
  1. Creating Greater Awareness

We must raise awareness of the health risks associated with climate change. Promoting approaches to tackling the issue that also benefit public health, such as reducing air pollution, encouraging more active transport options and healthier diets.

Sarobindo MalhotraSarobindo Malhotra is a co-founder of Advisory for Sustainable and Responsible Business (ASRB). Based in India, ASRB team has more than 70 years of collective work experience. They apply thought leadership and global networks across the areas of sustainability to develop solutions for businesses. ASRB’s work explores how to scale solutions to social, environmental and governance challenges.