Bridging the climate-health gap

  • Article type Insights
  • Publication date 29 May 2024

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two billion people across the globe lack safe drinking water, 600 million suffer from foodborne illnesses annually, children under five bear 30% of foodborne fatalities, 37% of heat-related deaths are a result of human-induced climate change, and heat-related deaths among those over 65 have risen by 70% in two decades.

From an increase in heat-related illnesses, water-borne and vector-borne diseases, malnutrition from disrupted food systems, to respiratory illnesses because of poor air quality, climate change unequivocally affects human health, increasing global health emergencies and straining vital healthcare systems. These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by developing countries, who are on the frontlines of the climate crisis.


An overview of climate-sensitive health risks, their exposure pathways, and vulnerability factors. Climate change impacts health directly and indirectly and is strongly mediated by environmental, social, and public health determinants. Source: WHO


Developing countries, which have contributed the least to climate change, are not only the most vulnerable to extreme events but have very few resources to adapt and protect their people. By 2050, climate change will likely cause an additional 14.5 million deaths and USD 12.5 trillion in economic losses worldwide[1]. Climate-induced impacts have ripple effects on healthcare systems, creating a significant burden on already strained infrastructure and medical and human resources, with costs for healthcare systems exceeding USD 1.1 trillion[2]. It’s clear: health and climate are inextricably linked: for good health outcomes, we need good climate outcomes.

The climate-health funding gap

Health-specific climate action remains underfunded, with only around 6% of adaptation funding and 0.5% of multilateral climate funding currently allocated to projects that protect or improve human health[3]. Low and middle-income countries require at least USD 11 billion in funding per year this decade to adapt to climate and health impacts and to increase the resilience of health systems.[4]

Country demand for health adaptation funding is growing: 95% of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement include health considerations, including the health co-benefits of mitigation, health adaptation, and resilience, and nearly a third of NDCs now allocate climate finance to health actions and/or plans.

Bridging the health and climate finance gap

As the largest multilateral climate fund, GCF is uniquely positioned to begin to address these funding gaps. We’re activating through a range of initiatives, including:

  1. Climate change and health vulnerability assessments
    1. To address the lack of country readiness for climate and health investments, GCF has invested over USD 5.2 million into assisting 15 countries to conduct climate change and health vulnerability assessments, which have led to health national adaptation plans (HNAPs) setting out potential project pipelines to protect populations from the health impacts of climate change.
  2. Delivering projects with direct or indirect health co-benefits
    1. Direct: USD 32.5 million has been invested to support health sector-specific projects –
      1. USD 12.5 million grant to bolster the climate resilience of national health systems in the Cook Islands.
      2. USD 25 million grant to enhance the climate resilience of Laos’ health system and strengthen capacity in 25 rural districts to manage the health impacts of climate change.
    2. Co-benefits: GCF has committed nearly USD 460 million to support 13 non-health sector projects with significant health and well-being co-benefits, including electric and active mobility projects which have positive health impacts on respiratory diseases linked to air quality such as E-mobility and low-carbon transport in Latin America, E-mobility financing in India, Building a zero-emissions bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Pakistan, and clean cooking solutions like Green affordable housing and resilient urban renewal in Ulaanbaatar and Promotion of climate-friendly cooking in Kenya and Senegal. Projects that target urban areas have a positive health impact by building population resilience such as Urban water supply and wastewater management in Fiji, Integrated urban flood management in Senegal, Resilience to hurricanes in the building sector in Antigua and Barbuda, and Metropolitan climate resilience in Liberia.
  3. A multi-stakeholder approach for coherence and complementarity
    1. Project Preparation Facility for long-term health and climate strategies for 12 countries
      1. At COP28, GCF authorised a grant of USD 1.5 million with a matching USD 1.56 million from UNDP and WHO for a proposed USD 122 million global climate and health programme. The grant will enable 12 countries to develop long-term health and climate strategies while incubating health and climate innovations. The long-term goal is to create a multi-partner Climate and Health Co-Investment Facility to leverage public and private capital for climate-resilient, sustainable, and low-carbon health systems.
    2. Guiding Principles for Financing Climate and Health Solutions
      1. At COP28, GCF, in collaboration with the Global Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, and WHO, led a community of nearly 50 development banks, multilateral funds, national governments, philanthropies, implementation partners, and the private sector into endorsing a set of Guiding Principles for Financing Climate and Health Solutions. The guiding principles and an accompanying Letter of Intent for partnership between GCF and the Global Fund have triggered the development of a multilateral health and climate investment framework to be launched at the World Health Assembly in May 2024.

Focusing on the prevention and adoption of known healthcare interventions could increase low-income countries’ GDPs by USD 4.4 trillion by 2040[5]. As these investments lead to better health, they grow economies, create jobs, and foster social inclusion and gender equity, especially as women comprise around 70% of the health workforce[6].

To address the climate crisis equitably, a paradigm shift is required in how countries and global actors collectively invest in our most valuable asset: people and their health. There is a need to strategically utilise existing capital and strategically mobilise additional financing and resources to safeguard global human health for all. GCF will be working in partnership to make this happen.

By Patrick Gitonga, GCF Health and Climate Senior Specialist


  1. World Economic Forum. Quantifying The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health: An Insight Report. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum, 2024.
  2. World Economic Forum. Quantifying The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health: An Insight Report. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum, 2024.
  3. World Health Organization. 2023 WHO review of health in Nationally Determined Contributions and long-term strategies: health at the heart of the Paris Agreement. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2023. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  4. United Nations Environment Programme. Adaptation Gap Report 2023: Underfinanced. Underprepared. Inadequate investment and planning on climate adaptation leaves world exposed. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations Environment Programme, 2023.
  5. Ramdorai, Aditi, Jaana Remes, and Matt Wilson. How Investing in Health Has a Significant Economic Payoff for Developing Economies. Brookings, July 21, 2020.
  6. World Health Organization. Delivered by women, led by men: a gender and equity analysis of the global health and social workforce. Geneva, Switzerland, WHO Human Resources for Health Observer Series No. 24,.2019.