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WHO / Europe activities on climate change and health

Vision and political commitment

The WHO Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe) is one of WHO’s six regional offices, and it serves the WHO European Region, which comprises 53 countries. WHO/Europe among others works to identify policy options to help prevent, prepare for, and respond to the health effects of climate change, and supports the EU Member States in selecting and implementing the most suitable policies, measures and strategies. WHO/Europe collaborates with a range of public health stakeholders in the WHO European Region, to ensure that coordinated action is taken to develop and implement efficient health policies and to strengthen health systems in different countries.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe has been advocating action on climate-related health risks since the 1990s, including through the European Environment and Health Process. The European Work Programme (2020-2025) ‘United Action for Better Health’ sets out a vision of how the WHO Regional Office for Europe can support countries’ health authorities towards meeting citizens' expectations of being able to thrive in healthy communities, where public health actions and appropriate public policies, including on climate change mitigation and adaptation, secure a better life and well-being. Climate change and health is one of the seven priority areas of the 2017 Ostrava Declaration on Environment and Health, whereby the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region committed to developing national portfolios of actions on environment and health.

The Zero Regrets initiative aims at scaling up action on climate change mitigation and adaptation for health. It addresses policy-makers, particularly from the health sector, to raise awareness about the links between health and climate change. The initiative provides relevant evidence, offers areas for policy action that can maximize health benefits and promotes collaboration across sectors and actors. All this sets the stage for the formulation of commitments on climate change and health for the 7th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health to be held in Hungary in 2023.

The COP26 Health Programme is a global flagship initiative that was established to bring a stronger health focus and ambition to COP26 and beyond and to call upon governments to sign health sector commitments to build and develop climate-resilient and sustainable low-carbon health systems. So far, in the WHO European Region, the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom have responded positively to this call and committed to take concrete steps to meet these objectives.

Working Group on Health in Climate Change (HIC) 

The Working Group on Health in Climate Change (HIC) was established in 2012 under the mandate of the European Environment and Health Task Force (EHTF) at the request of the Member States of the WHO European Region to protect health from the adverse effects of climate change. EHTF is the leading international body for implementation and monitoring of the European Environment and Health Process, in particular of the commitments laid down in the Ostrava Declaration on Environment and Health.

The HIC Working Group consists of nominated representatives of Member States and partners. It facilitates dialogue and cooperation among the Member States in the WHO European Region and other stakeholders, as well as communication and implementation of commitments to protect health from the adverse effects of climate change. Specifically, the Working Group promotes and advocates integration of health considerations in national climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and acts as a catalyst in promoting, implementing, and monitoring climate change and health commitments in the Ostrava Declaration at international, national and subnational levels. HIC provides a platform for exchange of experiences and innovations, promotion of tools, communication of evidence and demonstrating good practices in climate change and health and encourages partnership among countries and stakeholders.

Developing knowledge and evidence

WHO/Europe is an important knowledge developer in the field of climate change and health. In 2018, WHO/Europe published a report ‘Public health and climate change adaptation policies in the European Union’, which analyses developments in health policies to address adaptation to climate change in EU countries and compiles a selection of good practice case studies. Heat and health in the WHO European Region: updated evidence for effective prevention (2021) collates and summarizes the most relevant evidence to the state of the art, with the intent to provide up-to-date information and guidance on heat–health action planning.

The Health and Climate Change Country Profiles initiative forms the foundation of WHO’s monitoring of national and global progress on health and climate change. They are developed in collaboration with the national health services and present data-driven snapshots of the climate hazards and the expected health impacts of climate change countries are facing, track current policy responses and summarize the key priorities for climate and health action. Globally, over 80 countries have participated in this initiative since it began in 2015, including member states from the WHO European Region in the first 2015-2018 global series. In the current 2021-2022 global cycle, several more countries from the WHO European Region participated. All profiles become incrementally available online.