COP26 pledges developing climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems a win, but only if more countries commit.

COP26 pledges developing climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems a win, but only if more countries commit.

Fredrick Mugira, December 10, 2021

Environment and health activists in Uganda want more countries to commit to developing climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems.

They say the 50 countries that committed to developing climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) at the beginning of November 2021 are not enough to create a more significant global impact.

Dr. Arthur Bainomugisha, executive director of Uganda’s Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, says actions by only 50 countries may have a minor impact on the global climate system.

“Fifty out of the 195 countries are few. More counties should commit to it,”

Dr. Arthur Bainomugisha, executive director Uganda’s Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment

He insists that there is an urgent need to halt the effects of climate change on communities.

“One billion people (worldwide) have gone back into poverty because of Covid19 and climate change,” laments Bainamugisha

The governments of these 50 countries, which include some of those most vulnerable to the health harms caused by climate change and some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, committed to taking concrete steps towards creating climate-resilient health systems.

Forty-five of these countries have also committed to transforming their health systems to be more sustainable and low-carbon. Fourteen have set a target date to reach net-zero carbon emissions on or before 2050.

The commitments were made as part of the COP26 Health Programme, which Uganda is part of. This programme is a partnership between the UK government, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Climate Champions, and health groups, such as Health Care Without Harm.

“It is a welcome move,” notes Engineer Robert Nuwagaba, the project manager for the Energy for Rural Transformation (ERT) Project, a project under the Ministry of Health that has been offering free solar systems, installation, and maintenance to off-grid public health centers in the country.

The energy for rural transformation project’s third phase started about five years ago and has installed free solar systems at 329 public health centers in the country. 

Under this project, a health center three gets a solar system of about 980 watts; health center fours receive 1500 watt systems while health center twos get suitable solar packages according to the health services they are offering and staff houses needing power.

COP 26 C 1
Solar panels on a roof.

Nuwagaba says such a commitment could see more health centers in Uganda benefit from this project.

UNDP has been supporting us to implement this program in 26 health centers in the country, “he notes Nuwagaba observing that “it is enabling health centers become resilient to the impacts climate change.”

Experts advocate for more use of renewable energy in health systems. This, they say, would increase resilience to the challenges presented by climate change.

While remarking on this commitment at the COP26, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, stressed that health systems must be part of the solution by reducing carbon emissions.

“The future of health must be built on health systems that are resilient to the impacts of epidemics, pandemics, and other emergencies, but also to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and the increasing burden of various diseases related to air pollution and our warming planet,” noted Ghebreyesus.

Countries that have committed to achieving low-carbon, sustainable health systems include Argentina, Fiji, Malawi, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, and 39 others. Countries that have committed to enhancing the climate resilience of their health systems include Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Maldives, the Netherlands, and 45 others.

The government of Fiji, for example, is responding to the increase in cyclones, flash floods, and rising sea levels causing a lack of drinking water due to saltwater intrusion by building more climate-resilient health infrastructure, strengthening the health workforce, and providing health care facilities with sustainable energy services.

The country commitments come off the back of a WHO survey, launched this week, which shows that most countries now include health in their national climate plans to the Paris Agreement, but that often, plans still lack detailed health actions or support mechanisms.

“These government commitments exemplify the growing global health movement for climate action. Around the world, doctors, nurses, hospitals, health systems and ministries of health are reducing their climate footprint, becoming more resilient and advocating for a just transition that puts health at the centre of a decarbonized civilization,” said Josh Karliner, International Director of Program and Strategy of Health Care Without Harm.

This story was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews, Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

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