Interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution demand urgent action to ensure a healthy future for all

February 1, 2023

Panelists discuss ways to strengthen multi-sectoral action on climate change mitigation and health during a parallel session at the 2023 Prince Mahidol Award Conference in Bangkok.


Urgent, innovative and multi-sectoral actions are needed to prevent and mitigate the complex threats to human health from the ongoing and interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

This was the message coming out of the 2023 Prince Mahidol Award Conference (PMAC), a global multi-stakeholder forum co-hosted by the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation, the Government of Thailand and other partners including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), this week in Bangkok, Thailand.

A range of multidimensional risks and interconnected crises linked to the climate crisis – from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns, loss of biodiversity and important ecosystem services, to the contamination of air, water and soil – are endangering human health and development. And the COVID-19 pandemic is only exacerbating these challenges.

UNDP was actively involved in the week-long conference, including organizing two parallel sessions: 'Multi-sectoral Policies and Practices: Mitigation and 'Multi-sectoral Policies and Practices: Adaptation'. The objective of these sessions was to highlight innovations in multi-sectoral policy making and share practical lessons and practices to strengthen action on climate change mitigation, adaptation and health systems resilience. Both sessions sought to emphasize the essential role of collaboration across sectors that brings diverse actors together for cohesive policy action.

“People in low- and middle-income countries, including women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities and indigenous peoples, are among the most vulnerable to climate change and are at the greatest risk to its harmful impacts on health,” said Douglas Webb, Health and Environment Advisor with the HIV and Health Group at UNDP, who chaired the two sessions. “We must urgently come together to respond to the multidimensional threats to planetary health we are facing. Understanding and harnessing the varying incentives of health, environment and other sectors in society is our collective and immediate task.”

“UNDP is committed to supporting countries to develop integrated development solutions to address the nexus of health, environment and the climate crisis, and strengthen pandemic preparedness,” he added.

The parallel sessions examined the impacts of climate on health, and the health care sector on climate, drawing from experiences in Thailand, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Japan and across South-East Asia. They explored leverage points, financing mechanisms and collaborations that are needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change and promote human health and well-being. The speakers highlighted successful policies and environmentally sustainable health care practices that enhance justice and equity for vulnerable and underrepresented groups, including examples from fragile contexts where health care services are compromised. Each session featured speakers from government, national institutions, academia, civil society and donors.

Speakers during the parallel session ‘Multi-sectoral Policies and Practices: Adaptation’ share strategies and interventions to promote health and adapt health care systems for climate change.


“Climate and health is a climate, health and equity challenge,” said Montira Pongsiri, Senior Advisor on Climate and Health at Save the Children. “Addressing this challenge requires a systems-based approach which involves the integration of data on climate, health and social determinants.”

“Climate change and environmental issues are of paramount concern, and are inextricably linked to public health,” said Wijarn Simachaya, President of the Thailand Environment Institute. “The situation is becoming more severe, and time is of the essence. We must establish clear policy integration across sectors and take decisive action at the grassroots level.”

UNDP also participated in a side event at the conference on ‘Greening the Health Sector’ hosted by the United States Agency for International Development. The event highlighted the significant progress made by national governments, the private sector and advocates and civil society organizations to encourage the shift to less polluting health care delivery. Douglas Webb and Ian Milimo, Project Manager, of UNDP presented the results and experience of the Sustainable Health in Procurement Project (SHiPP). The project developed the Sustainable Procurement Index for Health, which is a tool designed to accelerate sustainable procurement in the health sector through identification of the sustainability credentials of suppliers and their products.

PMAC 2023 has highlighted the urgent need for greater collaboration to address the interlinked challenges for health, climate and development. UNDP has sought to facilitate multi-sectoral approaches in its support to building resilient, sustainable and risk-informed health systems in countries.

In the area of pollution and health, UNDP is implementing the Advancing Health and Environmental Sustainability through Action on Pollution project in Ethiopia, India and Mongolia, with support from the European Commission. The project is piloting two new tools that allow governments to address the health impacts of pollution, in addition to strengthening cross-sectoral collaboration. These tools – air pollution investment cases and legal environment assessments for health and pollution – are designed for adaption by any country interested in improving governance around pollution, climate change and health.

To respond to the surge in infectious waste driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new UNDP project funded by the Government of Japan was recently launched that aims to deliver sustainable, green solutions to health care waste management in Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives, through innovative practices, green technologies and capacity building. Similar initiatives to strengthen health care waste management are being implemented by UNDP in several other countries, including Nepal and Sri Lanka.

UNDP’s Solar for Health initiative helps to ensure constant and cost-effective access to electricity for uninterrupted health services, while also mitigating the impact of climate change, building resilience and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Viet Nam, UNDP supported the Government to establish an early warning forecasting system for dengue fever outbreaks, which have become increasingly severe and are occurring in new locations and at different times of the year due to climate change.