20 January 2024

Take climate action for better health

One of five ambitions to continue building the European Health Union in our Health Check for Europe 2024-2029
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Climate change has been identified as potentially the greatest health threat of this century. In Europe, heatwaves, pollution, floods, drought, as well as shifting the geographical distribution and emergence of new diseases, are major climate related health threats.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present various risks to ecosystems and but also to humans. This means adverse effects on the physical and mental health of people and a reduction in quality of life with indirect health consequences.

Doctors see patients suffering increasingly from harm caused by climate change. Therefore, CPME published a policy on climate change and health last March, making key recommendations to current and future policy-makers and the healthcare sector. The policy underlines that climate change has an impact on health, and it is therefore a societal, political, scientific and economic imperative to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. CPME is also collaborating with the Lancet Countdown to publish annual policy briefs with recommendations for advancing health and equity through climate action.

For scientists and doctors, global warming and climate change are not new concepts, but they have become major political questions only during the past decades.

In December, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) was closed with an agreement to accelerate the global transition away from fossil fuels, and to also triple renewables and double energy efficiency this decade. However, the success of this agreement will be determined by the changes the countries put into practice in the years ahead.

At the same time, the EU should meet its 2030 intermediate target to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels, as part of its ambitious target to be climate-neutral by 2050. The European Commission will table its proposed climate target for 2040 in the beginning of February. This will be the current Commission’s legacy for its successor that will be appointed after the June EU elections. Moreover, the publication of the first European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) is scheduled for spring. This joint effort of the Commission and the European Environment Agency (EEA) will aim to provide an assessment of current and future climate change impacts and risks related to the environment, economy and wider society in Europe.

Dealing with climate change requires both mitigation and adaptation. The first means reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing their sinks. The latter one refers to actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change, like preventing flooding or preparing for heatwaves.

National and local health systems need to take action through changes in education and capacity. European doctors are willing to help find solutions to adapt to the above-mentioned impacts but also to improve the environmental footprint of the healthcare sector, as globally the health sector accounts for 4.4% of greenhouse gas emissions, and even more in many European countries. In practice, this means for example improving energy efficiency of hospitals, introducing more sustainable procurement of pharmaceutical products, medical devices and other hospital equipment, reducing waste, and promoting disease prevention as the most sustainable healthcare is the reduced need for healthcare.

All European regions face climate extremes every year impacting many different aspects of our lives, including health. There is no time to wait or slow down, tackling the climate emergency requires ambitious climate policies to achieve the EU’s commitment to limit global warming to 1.5°C according to the Paris Agreement.

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