COP26 session highlights key link between climate change and health

Clare Wildfire (left) and Amanda Sturgeon (on screen) from Mott MacDonald with Jad Daley, CEO of American Forests.

A key feature of the COP26 event taking place in Glasgow over the past fortnight has been the way in which the climate change challenge has been framed alongside other key challenges facing the world. 

An event held today in the COP26 Resilience Hub entitled, The health-climate nexus: delivering a virtuous cycle of benefits, argued that ill-health and climate change were interrelated global threats and the solutions to each were also intertwined. 

Speakers at the event, which was chaired by Clare Wildfire, global practice leader for cities at Mott MacDonald, included representatives from Climate and Health Alliance Australia, the Clean Air Fund, American Forests, the Welsh government, the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations, the Municipality of Quito, Jakarta Capital City Government, Mott MacDonald and the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The panellists highlighted where synergies between ill-health and climate change lie and offered proactive and deliverable solutions, including examples of nature-based, place-based and regenerative solutions that provide climate resilience whilst also contributing to health and wellbeing outcomes. 

Speaking to Infrastructure Intelligence after the session, Clare Wildfire said: “This was a though-provoking and illuminating session which really highlighted how climate change action can help improve the health and wellbeing of citizens on a global scale. There is a growing realisation of the interplay between climate change and health and also a growing recognition that the healthier a society is then the more resilient it will be to deal with the effects of climate change.”

Wildfire said that the aim of the event was to highlight solutions and to show that people in the global north and the global south are getting on with it. “Even amongst the speakers there were business cards being shared as people sought to share solutions around some of these issues, which was great to see,” she said. 

Wildfire said that more needed to be done in the political sphere to ensure that solutions that could make a difference to both health and climate were taken on board. “The key takeaways from the event were the importance of policy and capacity on a political level and joining solutions up to make things happen,” said Wildfire. “That really important conversation, that this is about the health of our planet, needs to be had with politicians to underline the importance of highlighting synergies with climate solutions that can in turn improve people’s health,” she said.

Speaking at the event, Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests highlighted the work that his organisation had undertaken in the US around quantifying the benefits of tree cover, which had revealed the benefits on health as well as climate, which had been key to unlocking funding. “We need to prove that these links are important and can have added benefits to nudge the politicians in the right direction,” Wildfire said.

Like many of the sessions at COP26, the event also highlighted the power of natural solutions. “Using regenerative design can unlock environmental, social and economic value and promote shared benefits that can make a real difference to our health,” said Wildfire. “Such an approach improves air quality, if solutions are designed properly, they can also support flood mitigation and ‘green and blue’ infrastructure can lower your heart rate, leading to less stress and the promotion of active lifestyles, because designing a leafy walkway in a city can promote good health, she said.

“In the future, there will be an emerging realisation that this approach to design will be a no-brainer and we will look back at the way we used to design cities and wonder why on earth we did things that way,” said Wildfire.

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