For many years, addressing climate change has largely hinged on macro-level government policies and market-driven approaches to halt emissions. While societal and economic shifts remain critical, we increasingly recognize the present, life-altering impacts of climate change on every aspect of life from food security and water access to health risks and economic challenges. Climate change threatens the foundations of individual wellbeing and could negate decades of progress in global health.
These impacts aren’t felt equally. Climate change makes existing power structures more inequitable, especially among women, girls, ethnic minorities, and those in low- and middle-income countries, keeping these groups from having a seat at the table to advocate for change. And the impacts of climate change are felt most direly in the places that have contributed the least emissions, including countries across Africa.
As COP27 is held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6-18, we need African leaders to participate in all high-level discussions. We call on African governments to participate and include Ministries of Health in their delegations—as the issues of health and climate are closely interconnected.
Healthy communities are critical to any lasting climate solution. When individuals live better lives, they are better able to participate as full members of their communities—including participating in the process of mitigating and adapting to climate change. That is why it’s critical to ensure that health services remain accessible, especially as communities experience the effects of climate change like more local conflicts, weather disasters, and water and food scarcity.
At COP27, we call on leaders in the global health space to engage and make the imminent connections between climate change, health, and growing inequalities.
Big challenges require innovative solutions—and a challenge as complex as the climate crisis requires equally diverse and interconnected solutions to build a more climate-resilient future. What works in one area depends on local culture, geography, industry, and political structures, demanding locally led innovation and expedited implementation and learning. Though the risks and solutions may be unique, our approach is consistent—applying local communities’ perspectives to identify what needs to change.
So, lastly, at COP27, we call on leaders in the global health space, health ministers, and all individuals represented to listen to local communities most affected by climate change and to design and invest in solutions based on their needs, perspectives, and desires.
And we call on individuals to keep showing up and advocating for the healthy future every one of us needs.
Our climate future must be one where the health and wellbeing of all is ensured.
About the authors: Dr Githinji Gitahi is the Global CEO Amref Health Africa, a member of the Governing Board of Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). He also serves as a Commissioner on the Africa COVID19 Commission under the Chairmanship of President Cyrille Ramaphosa in addition to other Global Health assignements.
Lois Quam is CEO of Pathfinder International. Named three times to FORTUNE’s list of the most influential women leaders in business, Lois Quam joined Pathfinder in 2017 as our CEO. She brings a lifelong passion for women’s empowerment and lessons learned as a senior leader in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
Competing interests: None
Handling Editor: Neha Faruqui