Catalyst dialogue on health and climate change
A holistic understanding of health strengthens climate action
A Catalyst Dialogue on why this is so and what it means for policy and practice.
Mary White-Kaba & Anna von Roenne
- Sabine Gabrysch, Head of Research Department 2 on Climate Resilience at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Professor for Climate Change and Health at Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin
- Sophie Gepp, Board Member of the German Alliance for Climate Change and Health (KLUG), Research Associate at the Centre for Planetary Health Policy (CPHP)
- Christian Griebenow, Managing Director, Vétérinaires sans Frontières Germany (VSFG)
- Kim Grützmacher, Senior Advisor One Health, Biodiversity and Health, International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) and Planetary Health Lead, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin / Leibniz-Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science
- Melvine Anyango Otieno, Founder, Planetary Health Eastern Africa Hub
- Michael Succow, Founder, Michael Succow Foundation
- Elena Villalobos Prats, Technical Lead, Capacity Building and Country Support, and Lead for Alliance on Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH), Climate Change and Health Unit, World Health Organization (WHO)
Published by: Global Health Hub Germany and Healthy DEvelopments Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, November 2022
The following suggestions for German policy-makers surfaced over the course of the Catalyst Dialogue.
Put a holistic vision of health, in the sense of One Health or planetary health, into practice, through the following:
- Make use of the recognition that ‘health can shift the discussion’ by communicating to decision-makers and the public the concrete health implications of all policies, measures or programmes that impact, positively or negatively, on climate change (see p. 3).
- In all policy-making, be guided by the insight that caring for the environment is caring for human health – and vice versa (see p. 7).
- Realise ‘primary prevention at the source’ by preventing transmission of pathogens from animal hosts to humans in order to avoid epidemics and the need for costly, logistically challenging and often only partially effective vaccination campaigns (see p. 9).
- Commission health and climate experts to develop climate-sensitive guidelines for ‘net zero’ medical and public health interventions (see p. 11).
- Consult and collaborate with health and climate champions, such as KLUG (German Alliance for Climate Change and Health) or Health for Future, to inform and mobilise the public for holistic health and climate action (see p. 12).
- Provide interdisciplinary funding streams and workspaces to encourage and enable government and civil society actors, researchers and students working on health- and climate-related topics to move out of their ‘silos’ and work together to rise to the ‘imagination challenge’ (see p. 13).
Why a Catalyst Dialogue on health and climate action?
Worldwide, human-induced climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of floods, droughts and fires, famine, neglected tropical diseases and outbreaks of zoonotic diseases that can explode into pandemics such as the one the world is currently facing caused by COVID-19. There is ample evidence that these processes are putting millions of lives at risk, while whole regions that are currently highly populated will soon become uninhabitable, and competition for vanishing resources sparks conflict and migration. It is too late for some of these trends to be fully reversed.
Humanity is over-stressing many of the Earth systems on which all human, animal and plant life depends. Climate scientists have identified nine planetary boundaries including land-system change, biosphere integrity and ocean acidification that, when overstepped, create a ‘tipping point’ of no return. Health emergencies of unprecedented proportions are on the horizon. In such a situation, one would expect that human and planetary health would move up on the political and social agenda and take priority over other, competing interests. But is this the case?
To inform the German government’s position on the linkages between health and climate action, the Global Health Hub Germany, in cooperation with Healthy DEvelopments, co-sponsored by the German Federal Ministries of Health and of Economic Cooperation and Development, convened a high-level ‘Catalyst Dialogue‘ among seven distinguished representatives of academia, development cooperation, foundations, civil society, youth and international organisations, including from the Global South. The participants gathered on July 12 and 13, 2022, for two virtual debates to discuss the overarching question ‘How can a holistic understanding of health guide a holistic response to the climate crisis?’ and in August and early Septembercontributed reflections in individual interviews.
The objective of this paper is not to present a consensual statement of all Dialogue participants, but to trace central lines of argument from the Catalyst Dialogue as it unfolded. It illustrates policy-relevant positions and presents a range of complementary perspectives, all of which promise to enrich Germany’s policy dialogue on health and climate action.
 Diseases transmitted from animals to humans.
 The dialogues and interviews happened 2-3 months before COP27. The publications mentioned by Dialogue participants reflect the state of their knowledge and reading at that time.