According to the 2021 WHO health and climate change global survey report, over three-quarters of surveyed countries have developed or are currently developing national health and climate change plans or strategies.

This was disclosed in a news release on the WHO official website, stating that around 85% of countries have a designated focal point for health and climate change issues at their respective ministries of health.

In addition, 54% of countries have established a task force or committee on health and climate change.

This shows that countries have begun to prioritize health in their efforts to protect people from the impact of climate change, however, only about a quarter of the countries recently surveyed by the WHO have been able to fully implement their national health and climate change plans or strategies.

Of the surveyed countries, two-thirds have conducted a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment or are currently undertaking one, while virtually all (94%) countries incorporate health considerations in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement.

The WHO Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, Dr Maria Neira commented on the survey saying that, “The new WHO survey highlights how many countries are left unsupported and unprepared to deal with the health impacts of climate change. We are here at COP 26 to urge the world to better support countries in need, and to ensure that together we do a better job of protecting people from the biggest threat to human health we face today.”

The inability of countries to protect the health of their residents from climate change, according to the director, is the most harmful for their most disadvantaged groups, including ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants and displaced people, older people and many women and children.

The health arguments for increased climate action are very clear. For example, almost 80% of deaths caused by air pollution could be avoided if current air pollution levels were reduced to the WHO Air Quality guidelines,” said Dr Neira.

Furthermore, the survey revealed that countries are facing insufficient finance and this seems to be the major hindrance to fully implementing national health and climate change plans, as cited by 70% of countries. Followed by human resource constraints, although about one-third of countries identified a lack of intersectoral collaboration as a key barrier.

The news release states that “Countries report that a lack of funding; the impact of COVID-19; and insufficient human resource capacity are major barriers to progress”.

About half of the countries report that the COVID-19 emergency has slowed progress on addressing climate change by diverting health personnel and resources, and continues to threaten national health authorities’ abilities to plan and prepare for climate-related health stresses and shocks.

Tara Neville, Technical Officer at the WHO Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health and lead author of the survey report said, “the challenge now is to remove the barriers that are preventing countries from finalizing and implementing plans”.