New report urges business to tackle climate and health crises simultaneously with integrated net zero strategies

London, 21 September 2021 – In response to a current lack of guidance, new report published by international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, Bupa, GSK Consumer Healthcare and Walgreens Boots Alliance at Climate Week NYC, sets out recommendations for the private sector to urgently and simultaneously act on the twin crises of climate change and public health.

New report urges business to tackle climate and health crises simultaneously with integrated net zero strategies

 

      Forum for the Future, Bupa, GSK Consumer Healthcare and Walgreens Boots Alliance call on business to design strategies to deliver co-benefits for climate and health

      New guidance for the private sector launched to accelerate progress on interlinked challenges

      Announcement comes as Climate Week NYC and COP26 intensify the spotlight on climate action

London, 21 September 2021 – In response to a current lack of guidance, new report published by international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, Bupa, GSK Consumer Healthcare and Walgreens Boots Alliance at Climate Week NYC, sets out recommendations for the private sector to urgently and simultaneously act on the twin crises of climate change and public health.

Titled Driving Co-benefits for Climate and Health: How private sector action can accelerate progress”, the report argues that planetary health and human health are intrinsically linked. A healthy planet is a key foundation for a healthy population, and human health cannot be advanced without fresh water, clean air and a stable climate. It aims to address a lack of guidance for businesses on how to leverage their net zero strategies in a way that simultaneously accelerates change across these interlinked challenges. Its guidance is consistent with the messages from the global health community in a Special Report ahead of COP26 [1] and a recent editorial by over 200 health journals [2] calling on leaders to take emergency action to tackle the “catastrophic harm to health” from climate change.

Developed with input from businesses, NGOs, scientists, philanthropists and government advisors from across Europe and the US, the report recommends that:

      All businesses should take actions relating to their direct operations, employees, products and services and supply chains: switching power supplies to renewable energy or logistics to electric vehicles; investing in green buildings and staff wellbeing, promoting active travel and plant-based foods; investing in supply chain resilience; engaging consumers through climate/health-positive services, advice or information; making the case for change to governments and industry bodies; and leveraging the potential of cross-sector collaboration.

      The food sector should drive demand for healthier, plant-based diets; shift product portfolios accordingly; and support suppliers to shift to regenerative farming.

      The building and infrastructure sector should innovate building design and retrofits, invest in infrastructure that maximises climate and health benefits and incorporate biodiversity ‘net gain’ principles into new developments.

      The healthcare sector should explore precision medicine, AI analytics and digital delivery methods to cut carbon footprint and improve health outcomes. Organisations should also increase consumer understanding of how to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts.

      The finance sector should apply a climate lens to all investments and advocate for economic metrics based on wellbeing.

The guidance also highlights the importance of public policy advocacy. Private sector organisations should call on government to work with them to: promote public awareness of practical lifestyle choices that deliver co-benefits; provide the right incentives and financing for a transition to net zero that also delivers health benefits; develop carbon trading mechanisms and develop approaches to measure social value. 

Dr Sally Uren, Chief Executive, Forum for the Future, said: “Put simply, people cannot thrive on a dying planet. There are significant benefits for the private sector to accelerate progress on climate and health by taking a systems lens, and developing strategies that can deliver co-benefits. We need to act now to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change and adapt to the evolving public health challenges that are already being felt across the globe.”

The impacts of climate change on health can be both acute and chronic. Severe floods, heat stress or drought can have immediate and devastating impacts on health. Gradual rises in temperature can have longer term impacts, exacerbating both non-communicable and infectious diseases. [3]

Richard Ellis, VP, Corporate Social Responsibility, Walgreens Boots Alliance, said: “Malaria is one of the most climate-sensitive diseases, with many recent gains at risk due to increased extreme weather events and rising temperatures. Businesses can act on malaria by reducing emissions across their supply chains and supporting local programs to protect supply chains, workforce and communities.”

Climate change also impacts mental health [4], whether as a result of the trauma of living through severe weather disasters, or more widely suffering so-called ‘eco-anxiety’.

Dr Paula Franklin, Chief Medical Officer for Bupa Group, said: “Our mental health can be impacted directly through climate disasters and indirectly through the consequences of climate change. Businesses have a responsibility to support both their customers and their people to adopt climate actions that enhance both mental and physical wellbeing while at the same time benefiting the planet’s health.”  

Meanwhile, many of the drivers of climate change are also health issues in their own right. Air pollution from fossil-fuel power plants, transport and industry debilitates millions each year, while forest destruction damages water supplies and increases the risk of infectious diseases.

Dr Teri Lyng, SVP, Head of Transformation & Sustainability, GSK Consumer Healthcare, said: “As a healthcare company we know that climate and health are inter-related and can only be successfully resolved if tackled together. Businesses can benefit by taking an integrated approach to tackling climate and health through mitigation and adaptation.”

“In adopting the recommendations put forward in this report,” said Dr Uren, “businesses and governments can ensure that each action they take towards net zero drives maximum impact – in all cases for health, and in many cases for health and nature. Only joined-up thinking and catalytic action will enable the deep transformation needed to stay below 1.5°C and deliver a just and regenerative future for all.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 13 million people die each year from environmentally related health risks [5]. Around 90% of the world’s population breathe polluted air [6]; in 2020 1 in 4 people lacked access to safely managed drinking water in their homes [7], and more than 2 billion did not have access to enough safe and nutritious food [8].

-ENDS-

For more information, interviews or comment, please email Ulrike Stein, Senior Communications and Marketing Manager at Forum for the Future, u.stein@forumforthefuture.org. 

Access the report here https://www.forumforthefuture.org/driving-co-benefits-for-climate-and-health

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

References:

[1] World Health Organization (WHO), August 2021, Public consultation on draft COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health https://www.who.int/news-room/articles-detail/public-consultation-draft-cop26-special-report-climate-and-health

[2] The British Medical Journal (BMJ), September 2021, Climate crisis: Over 200 health journals urge world leaders to tackle “catastrophic harm”, https://www.bmj.com/content/374/bmj.n2177

[3] Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2021, Climate Effects on Health https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm

[4] Leonard. J, 2021, ‘How does climate change effect human health?’, Medical News Today https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/climate-change-and-health#mental-health

[5] WHO, 2016, ‘An estimated 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy environments’ https://www.who.int/news/item/15-03-2016-an-estimated-12-6-million-deaths-each-year-are-attributable-to-unhealthy-environments

[6] WHO, Air pollution https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/   

[7] UNICEF and WHO, Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020 - Five years into the SDGs.  https://washdata.org/sites/default/files/2021-07/jmp-2021-wash-households.pdf

[8] Action Against Hunger, World Hunger Facts, https://www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk/why-hunger/world-hunger-factsmalnutrition

About Forum for the Future

Forum for the Future is a leading international sustainability non-profit. For 25 years we’ve been working in partnership with business, governments and civil society to accelerate the transformation toward a just and regenerative future. We use our systems change and futures expertise to help tackle critical global challenges: the climate emergency, transforming our food and farming systems, and ensuring supply chains are more resilient and more equitable. We also enable long-term, transformative change by equipping individuals and organisations to act more systemically. Find out more at www.forumforthefuture.org or by following @Forum4theFuture on Twitter.

About the publication

The guidance shared in this report has been developed from a series of roundtable discussions during 2020-2021 led by Forum for the Future and Walgreens Boots Alliance with support from GSK Consumer Healthcare and Bupa. These brought together businesses, NGOs, scientists, philanthropists and government advisors from across Europe and the US. They followed an initial exploration of the links between climate and health led by the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), involving both Forum for the Future and Walgreens Boots Alliance (https://www.unglobalcompact.org/library/5714). The roundtables focused on three topics where climate and health issues come starkly together: air pollution, malaria and nutrition.