COP 26: Health systems must ‘detect, plan for and adapt to’ climate stresses – Report

COP 26: Health systems must ‘detect, plan for and adapt to’ climate stresses – Report
17 November 2021

By Tilly Alcayna, Climate Centre, London

A research report by the Climate Centre compiled for the Adaptation Research Alliance launched at COP 26 joins calls to stop framing climate and health “as vertical or independent issues”, but instead strengthen the climate resilience of health systems to protect life now and into the future.

The research summarises findings from a global consultation on health-related adaptation research priorities begun in August; it was jointly led by the UK Health Security Agency.

The ARA advocates “a new paradigm of action-orientated research to inform effective adaptation to reduce the risks from climate change, particularly for countries and communities that are most vulnerable – at the scale and urgency demanded by the science.”

The report identifies priorities for health-related adaptation research within finance, governance, information systems, human resources, technology and infrastructure, and service delivery.

It says the capacity of health systems “to detect, plan for and adapt to climate-related stresses” helps determine the health impacts of climate change. But while around half the 100 countries surveyed reported having a national health and climate plan, “a qualitative analysis [indicated they] varied widely”.

At 0.5 per cent, health also receives “insignificant amounts of international climate finance” – and this was arguably the leading constraint on strengthening climate resilience within health systems.

‘Adaptation research should support forecasting
of anticipated threats and mitigate the  
evolving trends and threats to health systems’

The report’s three key messages begin with a call for “ambitious adaptation research reflective of the urgency of the climate crisis and at a scale to inform both policy and practice [and embodying] the values of equity, quality, solidarity, and sustainability.”

Secondly, the report says how “we do health-systems implementation research is as important as the research itself.”

In research it is critical to engage at scale community representatives, policy-makers, planners, health professionals of all kinds, meteorologists, climate modellers, communications experts, sociologists and anthropologists.

Understanding health systems in a country context will help prioritize what order the ten action points in the 2015 WHO Operational Framework for building climate resilient health systems should be tackled in.

The report adds: “Adaptation research should support forecasting of anticipated threats [where possible to] mitigate the evolving trends and threats to health systems, especially service delivery.”

Its third key message is that “investment in adaptation research for health systems must be strengthened at the global stage.”


More systematic collection is needed of research on local implementation that can inform debates on global policy on adaptation and resilience within health systems.

This requires greater representation by researchers in the global South, consistency in research methods and the collation of findings, and funding for local research, infrastructure and management.

Strengthening health systems is complex, shrouded by imperfect data, and time-consuming: dialogue is needed to help different actors share their work and connect it and their lived experience “into a larger overall narrative”.

“This consultation process aimed to identify ‘knowledge-to-action needs’ or barriers to research driving climate action in health systems,” the report says in conclusion, “and by doing so, to identify the opportunities for action and understand who needs to do what” among researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, and communities.

In the run-up to COP 26, which ended last week, it called for health and social justice to “feature at the heart of the climate talks to unite us in protecting and promoting well-being and moving towards the vision of improving resilience to climate change by 2030 to ensure a future in which all beings thrive, not simply survive.”

The national Covid vaccination campaign for Peru’s indigenous communities in the Amazon and Andean regions, which included health education about the benefits of the vaccine. The country has also for years been at the cutting edge of anticipatory action by the Red Cross for climate-related hazards, including floods and extreme cold. (Photo: Sebastián Castañeda/ICRC-Reuters via IFRC)