EU Global Health Strategy lacks ambition on climate change, says expert

Giving climate change a more clear role in the EU Global Health Strategy is necessary to plan for future health threats, Alan Dangour, director of climate and health at the Wellcome Trust said.

The newly-proposed EU Global Health Strategy, presented by the EU executive on Wednesday (November 30), aims to boost the EU’s leadership role in global health policy by strengthening global health architecture and taking an integrated approach to the “global interconnectedness of health”.

At a Commission event following the announcement of the strategy, the Wellcome Trust’s Dangour praised the strategy at large, yet criticised the lack of focus on climate issues.

Despite the ‘One Health’ approach – the integration of human, animal and planetary health – at the centre of the proposal, Dangour questioned how the strategy could help Europe could prepare for the future without concrete reference to climate action.

“There are really, I’m afraid, substantial things that are potentially missing from this strategy, which is a much greater ability to plan for the future for something that we know is coming,” he told the room.

“I would love there to be a substantially stronger agenda on climate change, and the impact that climate change is having and will continue to have around the world,” he added, after also referencing health impacts seen in Europe this year, such as heat stress.

While health is an important aspect of climate discussions, it is often sidelined – as seen during the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt this month. Dangour stressed that the two need to be integrated more.

“How many health ministers were at COP? How much health is there at COP? If you listen to the conversations of COP, it is really frightening. We’re not acting with sufficient urgency, and we’re not acting with sufficient ambition,” he concluded.

In response to Dangour, Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme, highlighted that the climate crisis has already arrived.

“We’re not preparing for a pandemic in the future, we’re preparing for multiple intertwined, amplifying events. One is driving the other. There’s no longer one disaster, there is no longer one event,” Ryan said.

“It’s complex. And we have to find ways to simplify how we work together to deliver ultimately, for the communities that we serve,” he added.

A critical time for strategy

Earlier in the event, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus stressed that the strategy has come at a critical time, with COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the rise in non-communicable diseases, rising inequality, climate change and many more threats.

“Each of these challenges transcends borders, sectors, language, ethnicities, and political divides. No single country or organisation can deal with them in isolation, which is why multilateralism is more important than ever,” said Ghebreyesus in his introductory remarks.

One of the strategy’s central elements is to support the WHO to be at the centre of improving the global health architecture.

Ghebreyesus praised the strategy for being well aligned with WHO priorities on global health, and said that they “expect that this new strategy will open new opportunities for global health through enhanced leadership, advocacy, and resource mobilisation”.

“It will create a platform to address many of the most pressing challenges in global health, from addressing the root cause of disease, to supporting countries on the road to universal health coverage to making our world safer and the final eradication of polio,” he said.

He also announced a new EU contribution to the universal health coverage of €125 million, which was signed prior to the event, calling the money a ‘Christmas gift’.


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