The Health Community at the UN Climate Negotiations

COP26, Glasgow

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is the first opportunity since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 for countries to set out more ambitious plans for tackling climate change.

BLOG – The Global Climate and Health Alliance at COP26

Between the lines

Thursday 11 November
Alison Cox 

Ten days into life in this frenetic, intense world of the “Blue Zone”, we’re all now institutionalised into this artificial, temporary city within a city, and accustomed to speaking its unique language.

Yesterday morning we were all absorbing the first draft of the COP 26 outcomes document known as 1/CP.26.  This is the key textthat will summarise the main decisions of this Climate Summit setting direction and ambition for any progress once all the governments head back to their capitals.  This first draft gave us an initial glimpse of whether the Glasgow Summit is on course for success or failure.

We were pleased to see the Right to Health acknowledged in the opening paragraphs, and welcomed some strong language on mitigation and commitments to the 1.5C ambition.  As a first draft this text had a number of “placeholders” in it for outcomes from ongoing consultations and negotiations so was thin on detail.  Most concerning though, was a disappointing lack of content on finance, particularly finance for adaptation and on loss and damage.  

In the final version of the text, we would like to see recognition of the co-benefits for health of measures that tackle the climate crisis in line with the objectives of UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.

Our network of dedicated health and climate advocates have spent the day following up on contacts with government delegates to ask them to support this approach, and making the health arguments for key issues still to be finalised in these negotiations:

Under the Mitigation section of the outcomes document, we are keen to see protected the focus on the Paris Agreement ambition of restricting global heating to 1.5°C. As we said in our press statement  – “Every tenth of a degree of global warming will be counted in lost lives, just as every reduction in emissions will help improve people’s health.

And to help achieve this we strongly support setting dates for the phase out of coal and ending of fossil fuel subsidies.

We strongly support developed country Parties committing to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation. This funding should be “new and additional” and in the form of grants, not loans.

We also are supporting calls for developed countries to increase financing for losses and damages. We are arguing that health impacts and loss of life are a significant element of that loss and damage that should be considered along with ever-greater social, economic, and environmental threat of the climate crisis,  

Information about progress, new intelligence and asks for help have been flying across our whatsapp groups as we’re working the halls using all the various connections we have made,  trying to get our briefing into delegates hands.

The next “near final” draft of the document will be published overnight…Watch this space to see if we have had any success on the health language, and let’s hope we have helped contribute to strong outcomes text across the key issues of ambition, mitigation, finance, adaptation and loss and damage – the essential words of our COP26 lexicon. 

Health at COP

Wednesday 10 November
Jeni Miller

The climate challenge we’re facing is daunting, but this year the health community has had its biggest presence ever at the UN climate negotiations, COP26.

For the first time ever, the World Health Organization hosted a WHO Pavilion at the venue where the negotiations take place, for the full two weeks of COP. The pavilion has provided a space for daily health and climate programming, helped us connect with national delegations, and also served as a gathering point for the health community participating in COP. 

Another first was the UK Presidency’s inclusion of a Health Programme in the run up to COP, inviting countries to commit to make their health systems low carbon and climate resilient. Over 50 countries have now committed to do so, showing that health systems recognize the threat of climate change to health, and are prepared to walk the talk.

An extraordinary example of health system decarbonization is England’s Greener NHS, which has already begun to deliver towards its target of net zero by 2040, and in addition, net zero across its supply chains by 2045. In a tangible show of the innovations their new zero emission hydrogen ambulance is at the COP venue itself. When I visited the ambulance what stuck me is that the new vehicle, is not only net zero, but also designed to improve patient care and staff well being, with features to help calm patients with dementia, be more accessible and comfortable for those with visual, or mobility limitations, and that helps ease the work of lifting patients into and out of the ride.

Representing two thirds of the health workforce globally, the health community has also brought a physical version of the Healthy Climate Prescription letter, which has been signed by over 600 organizations representing 46 million health professionals from over 100 countries. We delivered the letter to Government representatives from the UK and COP27 hosts, Egypt, at events scheduled as part of the Health Programme during Gender, Science and Innovation day. Don’t miss this video which delivered the messages of the letter and brought the voices of health workers to COP26.

The eye-catching oversized version of the #ClimatePrescription has been a great conversation starter that has led to international news coverage, and we are seeing the collective message for urgent action reaching Ministers and negotiators. This has been crucial to the continuing efforts, through the final days of COP26, to ensure that protecting health is reflected in the final commitments coming out of the negotiations.

Healthy NDCs

Thursday 4 November 
Jess Beagley, Policy Analyst 

Earlier this week, GCHA held a hybrid panel bringing together speakers both inside and far beyond the COP26 venue to talk about health in NDCs.
The event opened with an intervention from His Excellency Dr Luis Moscoso, Vice Minister of Public Health and Service Provision of Colombia, who provided an overview of the myriad ways in which health is integrated into the NDC of Colombia, spanning adaptation, co-benefits and economic measures considerations. 

Dr Kol Hero, Director of the Department of Preventive Medicine within Cambodia’s Ministry of Health, then covered the rapid progress made in improving the health sector response to climate change in several of Cambodia’s most vulnerable provinces, and hope to scale this to national level. Cambodia and Colombia are among the highest scoring countries in the GCHA Healthy NDC Scorecard.

Driven by the strong start provided by these global leaders, the next phase of the session went into depth on adaptation and co-benefit measures around the world. Following an overview of the GCHA Scorecard, participants heard from Dr Daniel Buss of PAHO, Lourdes Sanchez of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and Patty Fong of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, who gave a round-the-world tour of strides being taken in the Americas, Bangladesh, China the EU, Kenya, Pakistan, and Vanuatu. PAHO has produced a report on enhancing health and climate commitments in updated NDCs, IISD is working together with WHO to provide technical support towards the inclusion of health in NDCs, and the Global Alliance for the Future of Food has assessed the inclusion of food and agriculture considerations in NDCs and the inclusivity of the processes to do so.

While the technical challenges which have punctuated much of the global pandemic also found their way into this event, virtual platforms also provided the opportunity to hear from leading experts from around the world.

Earth to COP

Tuesday 2 November
Sophie Smith – Operations Manager

The opening ceremony of the World Leaders Summit began with bagpipes and Professor Sir Brian Cox reminding us of the miraculous significance and fragility of our home: Earth, our little blue dot.  It was an emotive start – but perhaps that’s speaking as someone from Scotland. 

PM Boris Johnson duly followed, welcoming world leaders to Glasgow – a city steeped in industrial history, being the birthplace of the steam engine some 250 years ago. It was then, he said that the ‘doomsday clock started ticking’.  The extended metaphor of world leaders as James Bond stopping a deadly bomb was true to form, but made me wonder whether some in the room should be considered the villain in the story. 

While the great and good listened to these rousing speeches hundreds queued outside in the dreich November weather.  (It took the GCHA team over an hour to get in, and speaking to colleagues, that was quick!)  Civil society organisations have expressed dismay on account of the constricted capacity for observers and there is growing concern for the legitimacy of the process if leaders cannot be held to account.

Back in the warm well-lit conference centre, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that we are digging our own graves by inaction, HRH Prince Charles mentioned that the IPCC diagnosis warrants a war-like footing, and Sir David Attenborough gave a rallying cry to turn the tragedy into triumph, highlighting that those who have done the least in contributing to climate change suffer the greatest impacts.  

All three statesmen (I deliberately include Sir David in this category) gave thoughtful, motivating speeches, but it was the testimonies of Brianna Fruean, a 23 year old environmental advocate from Samoa; Txai Suruí, a 24 year old Indigenous climate activist from Brazil; Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados and Kenyan youth advocate Elizabeth Wathuti that really made the room sit up and listen. 

Each of these women spoke with insight, passion and a sense of urgency that cannot be overstated. They called for world leaders to open their hearts, to really lead, and ultimately to act: vulnerable nations and future generations will not survive on empty promises.

Ultimately, the films, poetry and speeches from political leaders and climate activists alike gave a striking reminder that what’s being negotiated at COP is not just dry politics but is very real, very urgent, and very emotive.


A Prescription for leaders at COP26

31 October
Alison Cox, Policy & Research Director 

Coming off a G20 summit outcome in Rome that has given some room for hope of progress in Glasgow, Alok Sharma’s first success on the opening day of COP26 was to secure agreement to the conference agenda. Concerns remain about the complexity and sheer amount of the negotiations reflected in that agenda and the Presidency’s parallel consultations agenda.

Another logistics issue that emerged on Sunday is that although 40,000 are registered it’s been announced that the venue capacity will be limited to 10,000 each day. Civil society groups are raising concerns about transparency given limited access to observe key sessions. 

On a more positive note, it was great to hear the powerful health framing made at the COP26 opening on Sunday, by India Logan-Riley, a representative of the indigenous peoples of the East Coast of New Zealand.  She described how in 2019 wildfires in Australia threatened the health of her family with asthma: “our health is bound by the actions taken by our global neighbours.”

The Healthy Climate Prescription arrived in Glasgow on Sunday carried by the #ridefortheirlives team of 30 children’s hospital staff and one patient who have cycled 850km through wind and rain from London over the last seven days. The letter has been signed by over 500 organisations representing 46 million health workers around the world, and calls on all nations at COP26 to recognise the climate crisis as the biggest health threat facing us this century – and to take urgent action to restrict global heating to 1.5C by 2050.

The first 800km leg of the journey from Geneva to London had been ridden by Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Head of the WHO’s Climate Unit charged by Dr Tedros with delivering the WHO COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health and the Healthy Climate Prescription letter that he has personally signed. 

Fiona Godlee, Editor of the British Medical Journal who joined the riders for the last leg to Glasgow, called on leaders gathered at COP26 to listen to their message: “You trusted health professionals during the pandemic. Trust us now when we say ‘Time for Climate Action, Now!’”

Finally, GCHA’s opening statement on the talks, in a press release today, is that World leaders must make health and social equity the beating heart of COP26 negotiations… prioritising health and social equity over politics, profit and unproven technological fixes.”


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GCHA Delegation

The team will be adding their thoughts and updates to this page in the form of a rolling blog throughout COP.  
You can also follow them on Twitter for more regular updates on activity relevant to the Health community.  

Jeni Miller, Executive Director

Jen Kuhl, Networks & Engagement Lead

Jess Beagley, Policy Analyst

Alison Cox,
Directory of Policy & Advocacy

Sophie Smith,
Operations Manager

Milena Sergeeva, Liaison Officer for Latin America

Poornima Prabhakaran, Board Member