The need for a new climate resolution

In a world where climate and health challenges continue to grow, not least because of the increase in infectious diseases and extreme weather conditions, an inclusive, cross-regional approach is essential. It is vital that we address the relationship between climate change and health if we are to achieve a sustainable future. Last year the Netherlands launched a Global Health Strategy, with climate as one of its three priorities. In this connection, the Netherlands and a diverse group of other countries are leading the process for a new World Health Organization (WHO) resolution on climate change and health. The goal is for the member states to adopt it by consensus in May 2024.

Mieke Molthof is a policy adviser at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport’s International Affairs Department, working on the international dimension of the Global Health Strategy. Based in The Hague, Molthof is also the coordinator of climate diplomacy, responsible for ensuring that the process of adopting a new World Health Assembly resolution on climate change and health runs as smoothly as possible.

The current WHO climate resolution dates from 2008, but much has changed over the past 15 years. ‘We notice that more urgent action is increasingly needed to deal with climate change and the associated health challenges,’ says Molthof. ‘WHO has identified climate change as the biggest threat to health in the 21st century. To cope with this threat, we need close international cooperation, to make health systems both climate resilient and sustainable. That is why the Netherlands has initiated the international process of drafting a new resolution. Along with our partners Peru, Fiji, Barbados, the United Kingdom and Kenya, we are leading the way. We have deliberately chosen a cross-regional group of countries with different backgrounds, to ensure as many viewpoints as possible are represented.’

What is the new resolution about?

‘The new climate resolution is primarily about two things: global action and mainstreaming. First of all, we are calling on the WHO to draw up a global plan of action. There is currently a plan of action focusing specifically on Small Island Developing States, for islands that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. However, current developments show that action is needed all over the world. Secondly, we are trying to make climate an integral part of WHO’s General Programme of Work . The organisation already has a separate climate team, but climate is not yet integrated into all the work that WHO does. One consequence of this is that work gets done mainly in silos, and the climate team regularly faces financial problems. The team is largely dependent on voluntary contributions, so it lacks robust, sustainable funding. We want to change this.’

What is the link with Health Day op 3 December?

‘This year’s UN climate summit (COP) will take place from 30 November to 12 December in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Health Day is an initiative of the UAE, which is organising the summit, to highlight the links between climate change and human health and wellbeing. It’s the first time that a special Health Day and Climate and Health Ministerial have been organised during a COP. Health Day will be filled with all kinds of health events. The Climate and Health Ministerial will take place at the end of the day, so that health ministers can make political commitments on tackling the reciprocal global impacts of climate and health.

‘Health Day will be an important moment for us to give the new WHO climate resolution a boost. We want to translate the political commitments into action. We will, for example, be asking WHO to produce a plan of action, but we will also be calling upon member states to take action themselves. We hope to encourage shared responsibility. Health Day will be an opportunity to focus attention on this.’

What’s the link with the Global Health Hub?

‘The GHH plays a major role, as far as we are concerned. One of the communities of practice is climate, of course. This COP and our partners will help us garner ideas for the resolution. The parties in the hub could be very helpful, encouraging countries and stakeholders to get behind the initiative, for instance. Or allowing different views to be heard on the subject of climate and health. Collaboration between as many parties as possible is the only way to meet the current climate challenges.’