Climate-smarter health system | Inquirer Opinion

Climate-smarter health system

/ 04:15 AM March 16, 2022

The second part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” and the Working Group II discussion on the health and well-being of communities under a changed and changing climate, have again presented the health systems of highly vulnerable countries like ours the dire reality of our current situation.

From extreme weather conditions like destructive typhoons and flooding, heat-related events that exacerbate common illnesses, to climate-sensitive infectious diseases, nutrition, and mental health issues that result from food insecurity, as well as migration and conflict, every possible health impact from increasing carbon emissions and rising temperature is now apparent at the global, regional, and national levels. They spare no country but disproportionately affect those with weak adaptation capacities and systems characterized by deep-seated inequity issues.


Unequivocally, these direct and indirect health effects are caused by humans, thus mitigation strategies to reduce carbon emissions at the global and systems levels should take precedence. But adaptation measures have to be done more effectively at the country level to prevent the worst-case scenario when the temperature rise goes beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next five to 10 years.

In the Philippines, recognizing that we are already on the cusp of this near-future bleak scenario as far as our health realities are concerned can be a challenge. But defining how we can strengthen our health system to adapt to these grim climate change impacts, no matter how herculean the task, should be approached as a moral imperative in the “now normal.”


Public health authorities should take bold “code red” or emergency actions within a very narrow window of opportunity to best protect the health and well-being of the population, especially vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Building a climate-smarter health system that will benefit our generation and future ones is inarguably the most important premise of our reason for being during this now normal.

Research findings on the country’s national health adaptation policy and implementation barriers indicate a four-fold pathway to a climate-smarter health system.

Improved policy implementation based on both mitigation and adaptation strategies at the community, health facility, and governance levels is key. A clear theory of change will need to be developed moving forward but mobilizing resources—financial, human, material—is crucial to ensure effective and efficient implementation of plans at different levels.

Responsive health leadership and governance that champion decarbonization and stress the development of climate-resilient health systems should be the critical themes in health programs, plans, and activities. This includes the commitment to start, see through, and sustain the implementation of plans amidst uncertain political, fiscal, and social environments.

Robust systems for generating, translating, and using health data and evidence to help identify the source of diseases and climate-related health events should be developed, as they allow documentation and synthesis of knowledge, beliefs, and practices on climate and health resilience. Done right, this can guide us as far as our policy priorities are concerned.

There should be engaged and meaningful participation from stakeholders from local and international agencies, the private sector, civil society, academe, local governments, and communities on the frontlines. This is the only way to create a shared vision of the future that we want (and deserve) and hold everyone accountable for the holistic actions that need to be done.


As the lines dividing our future and present are blurred by the rising temperature and worsening impacts on the health of our planet and people, the necessary impetus for action is becoming clearer.

In this now normal, our country must take a stand and we, as humans united by our common failures, frailties, struggles, and aspirations, should rise to this existential challenge before it’s too late.

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Ronald Law is a physician, public health practitioner, and academic focused on health emergencies and disasters including global environmental change and its impacts on health. He is one of the contributing authors to the health chapter of the latest IPCC report and is currently a Rockefeller Foundation resident in Bellagio Center, Italy, working on his research project on enhancing the climate and health resilience of high-risk and vulnerable communities in the Philippines.

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TAGS: Climate-smarter health system, Commentary, Ronald Law
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