OECD Forum Virtual Event: "Climate & Health"

Climate change has been called the single biggest health threat facing humanity. Join us on Thursday, 17 February 1400–1515 CET to debate the issues needed to mitigate health risks linked to climate change and find long-term solutions to future challenges. Banner: Shutterstock/Valentina Shilkina
OECD Forum Virtual Event: "Climate & Health"

The OECD Forum Virtual Event Climate & Health will take place on Thursday, 17 February from 14:00–15:15 CET—register now!

The OECD Forum Virtual Event Climate & Health will take place on Thursday, 17 February from 14:00–15:15 CET—register now!


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed just how central health is to the functioning of our societies and economies as well as our personal well-being and day-to-day lives.  The G20 and many other governmental, business and civil society organisations are already working hard to make sure that we are better prepared for the “next pandemic”. The hope is that by investing in being better prepared, the next global health crisis could either be prevented or contained more effectively. It is essential that we focus on what we need to do now, as the world tends to move on quickly, with new crises taking centre stage.

To rise to global environmental and health challenges, it is paramount to acknowledge how they intersect, and cease approaching them in siloes. COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the link between climate change, biodiversity loss, and the emergence of zoonotic diseases – diseases passed between animals and humans. A key strategic area within the discussion on being better prepared for the future must therefore be the wide-ranging impact of climate change on our health.

Prior to the pandemic, two Lancet Commissions already concluded that climate change represents the most significant global health threat, but there remains, both amongst the public at large and key decision makers, a lack of understanding of the links between climate change and health.

In the months leading up to COP26, and in the context of G20 meetings under the Italian Presidency, more than 200 medical journals and professional organisations released a series of reports and editorials placing health at the heart of addressing climate change. A letter signed by organisations representing 47 million global health professionals declared the climate crisis “the single biggest health threat facing humanity.” The WHO estimates that between 2030 and 2050, at least 250,000 additional deaths will occur every year as a result of climate change.

Visit the Forum Network Climate & Health event space to ask a question, share links and join the conversation!

Visit the Forum Network Climate & Health event space to ask a question, share links and join the conversation!

Climate mitigation policies can help reduce the burden of disease from a very wide variety of illnesses, including heart and lung diseases, cancer, diabetes, and possibly even Alzheimer’s. But also from heat and humidity related health impacts, as well as malaria, as with changing weather patterns, diseases traditionally associated with tropical and subtropical regions are spreading to previously unaffected areas.

The fear of challenges raised by climate change is also starting to detrimentally affect mental health, with “eco-anxiety” and climate grief on the rise, particularly amongst younger people. Scientific literature finds a clear relationship between increased temperature and number of suicides, while mental health problems increase following environmental disasters. 

The effects of climate change further exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities including poor air quality, poor food quality, and poor housing quality, disproportionately harming the health of disadvantaged populations. Young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, and those with fewer resources in general all face a higher level of risk.

It is crucial to make sure that policies which address the pandemic, the recovery and the transition to the net-zero economy are consistent, and reinforce each other. Current knowledge and research gaps can lead to poorly designed policies. Some of the issues that need addressing, such as the over-reliance on GDP as a measure of human progress and related failure to account for future health and environmental harms over present day gains, are difficult. But others are quite practical, facilitate innovation, and will have an immediate impact beneficial to our health, including climate conscious design of cities, offices and housing, promoting public transport and clean sources of energy, as well as changing our diets.

As the OECD and member governments develop recovery programmes to address the impact of COVID on our economies and societies, we have the opportunity to also strengthen commitments to address climate change and progress to the net-zero economy, and to simultaneously ensure that these programmes generate concrete health benefits. The Lancet Planet Health 2018 report already estimated that the economic value of health co-benefits could partly - and sometimes even wholly - offset the costs of climate mitigation. Being clearer about the fact that climate change is a critical health issue and capitalising on the potential to address health and climate priorities in unison is a powerful lever for action towards a healthy, net zero future.

Over the next years the OECD will help drive and support more ambitious, effective and globally co-ordinated action on climate change. A key pillar of our collective response is access to better data on comparative policy effort and impact, but it is also of utmost importance to ensure comprehensive, whole-of-government policies are developed. To address climate change and the resulting health impact, transformative change is needed across many sectors – energy, food, healthcare, housing, tax, and transport. All of us need to take action to make this happen through better regulation, significant changes to business practice, and how we all manage our every-day lives.

The OECD Forum Virtual Event Climate & Health will take place on Thursday, 17 February from 14:00–15:15 CET—register now!

The OECD Forum Virtual Event Climate & Health will take place on Thursday, 17 February from 14:00–15:15 CET—register now!

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 International Co-operation Climate Health