The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) 2023 State of Climate Services report is an alarm bell, sounding the urgency of integrating climate services with public health strategies. As the world warms at an alarming pace, the need for robust climate services to bolster health systems becomes increasingly critical, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
The WMO’s annual reports, initiated in 2019, are vital for informing climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. The 2023 report, with its spotlight on health, provides a wealth of scientifically based information to support national and international policy-making. This article delves into the key findings and recommendations of the report, underscoring the undeniable interconnection between climate and health.
The Grim Reality of Health Risks from Climate Change
The WMO report unequivocally states that the health risks from climate change will soar, with a projected over 50% increase in excess mortality by 2050, particularly in Africa. This stark prognosis results from intensified temperature extremes, storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires. The consequences are not just statistical forecasts but real threats that will exacerbate the health disparities already experienced by the most vulnerable communities.
The Underestimated Impact of Extreme Heat
Notably, the WMO identifies extreme heat as a significant cause of mortality, with heat-related deaths potentially being 30 times higher than what current estimates suggest. Despite this, only half of the countries affected provide heat warning services to health decision-makers. The burden of heat-related mortality between 2000 and 2019 was especially high in Asia and Europe. With the onset of phenomena like El Niño, the report anticipates even more record-breaking temperatures, making the adaptation challenge greater.
Air Quality: A Silent Killer in the Climate Crisis
The quality of the air we breathe is a critical determinant of health. The report positions air quality as the fourth biggest killer by health risk factor. Despite the clear link between climate mitigation actions, such as reducing air pollution and saving lives, investment in this area is meagre. Only 2% of climate finance commitments to tackle air pollution in developing and emerging countries are recorded, revealing a significant gap in climate finance and health protection measures.
Investment Deficiency in Climate Services for Health
The report criticises the need for more investment in the health sector’s capabilities to deploy research and integrated systems for effective climate adaptation and mitigation-related decision-making. Alarmingly, just 0.2% of total bilateral and multilateral adaptation finance supports health-focused projects. This lack of investment leaves the health sector ill-prepared to safeguard the most vulnerable against climate impacts.
The WMO’s Role and Recommendations
In response to a UN request, the WMO, through its Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) has taken on the responsibility of reporting on the state of climate services to inform more effective investment and enhance adaptation and development outcomes. The 2023 report is comprehensive, covering a range of data, literature, policy documents, and case studies, and is structured to guide the reader from the challenges to actionable recommendations.
The report’s recommendations for the way forward include:
- Implementing early warning systems for extreme weather events.
- Increasing investment in climate services that focus on health.
- Transitioning to clean energy sources to mitigate air pollution.
- Enhancing healthcare infrastructure to withstand climate change.
- Focusing on the most vulnerable populations in climate adaptation measures.
- These steps are prescriptive and necessitate a paradigm shift in how we perceive the relationship between climate change and public health.
A Call for Concerted Action
Understanding and mitigating the health risks posed by climate change requires combined efforts from environmental and public health fronts. The WMO’s message is clear: Addressing the climate-health nexus is essential for the well-being of current and future generations. It calls for unprecedented cooperation among governments, corporations, and citizens.
Grassroots Initiatives and Global Policies
While the report highlights the role of global and national policies, it also emphasises the power of grassroots initiatives. From the renewable energy targets set by the Australian state of Victoria to Nigeria’s vibrant off-grid solar market, the report illustrates that people-centred initiatives offer a beacon of hope for a sustainable future free from fossil fuel dependence.
As the WMO 2023 State of Climate Services report illustrates, the intersection of climate change and public health is fraught with challenges yet ripe with opportunities. It is a multifaceted issue that requires a multidimensional response — one that is as informed by the complexities of global health as it is by the intricacies of the climate system.
With COP28 on the horizon and the climate crisis intensifying, the insights from this report are more relevant than ever. The global community is at a crossroads, and the decisions made now will shape the health outcomes of billions. It’s a stark reminder that in the race against climate change, there is no victory without safeguarding the health of the most vulnerable. The WMO’s report not only provides the roadmap but also the imperative to act without delay.