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Five things to know about climate change and health going into COP 28

November 28, 2023
by Alixandra Rachman

The annual United Nations Climate Change Conference – the world’s only multilateral decision-making forum on climate change – is taking place from November 30 through December 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. For the first time ever, this year’s conference will feature health as a key theme, with an official Health Day, including a climate-health ministerial, on December 3.

The conference, popularly known as COP 28 for the 28th UN Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), includes a World Climate Action Summit. The Conference of Parties is made up of representatives from almost every country in the world and more than 70,000 delegates are expected to attend.

Released in advance of COP 28, the eighth annual Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report provides evidence needed to inform the negotiations and to implement crucial health-protecting climate change action.

The global report is an annual publication compiled by an international collaboration of climate and health scientists, engineers, economists, political scientists, public health professionals, and doctors. Hailing from 52 leading research institutions and UN agencies worldwide, contributors aim to provide a comprehensive, up-to-date assessment on the state of climate change and health. Drs. Robert Dubrow, MD, and Jodi Sherman, MD, from the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health are among the 114 contributing authors of the 2023 report, which was launched in mid-November.

The report monitors 47 author-developed indicators in five domains: 1) the health impacts, exposures, and vulnerabilities of climate change, 2) adaptation, planning, and resilience for health, 3) mitigation actions and their health co-benefits, 4) economic and financial aspects of the interaction between climate change and health, and 5) public and political engagement in climate change and health.

As we approach COP 28, Dubrow and Sherman shared five key findings from this year’s Lancet Countdown report:

  1. Climate inaction is costing lives and livelihoods today. In 2022, individuals were, on average, exposed to 86 days of health-threatening high temperatures, of which 60% were at least twice as likely to occur because of human-caused climate change.
  2. New global projections reveal the grave and mounting threat to health of further delayed action on climate change, with the world likely to experience a 4.7-fold increase in heat-related deaths by mid-century.
  3. A new regional section of the report highlights the different and unequal experience of the health impacts of climate change and who is benefiting from climate change adaptation and the health co-benefits of the clean energy transition so far and who is not. The authors outline the opportunity that a just energy transition offers to reduce health inequities and improve the health and well-being of all populations.
  4. Despite these harms, data from this year’s report reveal a world moving in the wrong direction. Governments, companies, and banks continue investing in oil and gas as the challenges and costs of adaptation soar, and the world approaches irreversible harm.
  5. Without profound and swift mitigation to tackle the root causes of climate change, the health of humanity is at grave risk. The stark findings must force urgent health-centered climate action to shift the global economy to a zero-carbon footing while delivering “transformative opportunities” to improve the health of world populations through improved energy access and security, cleaner air, safer drinking water, healthier diets and lifestyles, and more livable cities.

As a report co-author, Dubrow was responsible for the indicator “Benefits and harms of air conditioning.” Air conditioning prevents heat-related illness and death, but also is energy intensive and exacerbates climate change, air pollution, urban heat islands, energy poverty, and health inequities. In many low-income regions, air conditioning remains largely inaccessible. An integrated approach to deliver sustainable cooling for all should include passive cooling, highly efficient active cooling, climate-friendly refrigerants, and cooling only where and when it is needed.

“It is an honor to be a member of the Lancet Countdown collaboration and to contribute to the 2023 report, which represents a vital call to action,” Dubrow said.

Sherman was responsible for the indicator “Healthcare sector emissions and harms.”

The healthcare sector has an important role in both managing the effects of climate change and reducing its own pollution emissions. Globally, the healthcare sector contributed 4.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and harms from toxic air emissions (small particulate matter and ozone) equivalent to 4 million disability-adjusted life years in 2020 alone. Significant contributors include China and the United States. Care delivery requires the use of energy, goods, services, and infrastructure. While low- and middle-income regions seek to expand healthcare access, high-income nations must work to rapidly reduce emissions while maintaining and improving healthcare quality.

“The healthcare sector can lead by example and transition to sustainable, resource-efficient net-zero health systems,” Sherman said.

The Lancet Countdown collaboration emphasizes the urgency of addressing the complex relationship between climate change and public health. As COP 28 draws closer, the report serves both as a knowledge base for discussions and a catalyst for urgent action to implement policies that foster a healthier and more sustainable future.

Find out more and read the full report at

Submitted by Colin Poitras on November 28, 2023