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The Climate Crisis Is Also a Health Crisis

The interplay between climate change and the spread of deadly pathogens could herald an era of global devastation and disruption. To avert another COVID-style catastrophe, we must prepare our health systems for future crises, address outbreak risks, and ensure equitable access to vaccines and treatments.

GENEVA – The latest Lancet Countdown report, which monitors the health consequences of climate change, highlights the need to prepare for future calamities. Even as COVID-19 continues to spread, a recent study suggests that the likelihood of another pandemic increases by 2% each year. In the coming decades, the interplay between the climate crisis and public health could create a perfect storm of global devastation and disruption.

The good news is that if we take immediate steps to transform our health systems, we can avert another COVID-style catastrophe. As with the current pandemic, the obstacles to mitigating climate change are not just scientific or technological, but also rooted in geopolitics and market forces. Self-interest can undermine public health, particularly when it comes to equitable access to resources. Even so, the international community came together to introduce innovative mechanisms like the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access facility (COVAX), which was designed to remove the financial barriers that prevented lower-income countries from obtaining vaccines.

We must launch similar mechanisms for addressing the global public-health impact of climate change. While we already know many of the likely solutions, their effectiveness requires that we put them in place before disaster strikes. This is not just a moral imperative; it is also a smart economic choice that would likely reduce the overall cost of outbreaks and other climate-related catastrophes.

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