Philanthropic donors and foundations are often focused on improving public health and safety, reducing hunger and poverty, and caring for the disadvantaged – which is why more philanthropic efforts should focus on climate solutions. As numerous studies like the recent Lancet Commission report have shown, climate change has a profound impact on health, from respiratory aliments caused by air pollution to an increase in vector-borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Drought and flooding exacerbated by climate change can lead to low crop yields and poor water quality. And these effects are disproportionally felt by low-income communities and other vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.
Carbon emissions can have a detrimental effect on the health of our economy as well. A study of six U.S. climate change-related events from 2000 to 2009 showed a cost of $14 billion in health expenses and lives lost.
Climate solutions have enormous potential to reverse this trend. The EPA estimates that their newly released Clean Power Plan will offer health benefits worth $54 billion a year after 2030, and will prevent 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 asthma attacks in children.
Yet, the level of philanthropic support on climate issues doesn’t currently match the urgency of the problem or the scale of opportunity to transform public health – largely because the link between climate and health is still poorly recognized. To address this disconnect, ecoAmerica and the Health & Environmental Funders Network recently collaborated on a report designed to introduce grant makers to issues and opportunities that lie at the intersection of climate change and health.
The report, Achieving a Climate for Health: Philanthropy to Promote Health and Justice through the Challenges of Climate Change, begins by outlining the health impacts of climate change.
It then goes on to define three main areas where philanthropic action can make a difference. (Note: these opportunities are meant as ideas for exploration, rather than funding recommendations.)
Philanthropy can play a critical role in helping prepare society for climate-related health impacts that are already under way.
• Strengthen risk assessment to help regions understand the unique threats facing them, and prepare accordingly.
• Build the capacity of the health sector to respond to climate impacts. Areas of opportunity include research, infrastructure, and training.
• Prioritize preparedness efforts to protect the most vulnerable, such as children, the elderly, or low-income communities.
• Focus on clean air and water as essentials for healthy living.
Accelerating climate solutions may be one of the most significant disease-prevention opportunities for health-focused philanthropy.
• Improve awareness of the health consequences of fossil fuels and the benefits of climate solutions.
• Speed the transition to clean energy through support of energy retrofits and replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy.
• Boost health sector engagement by funding research or public health groups working on climate and health.
• Strengthen the movement for climate solutions by drawing together grantees already working on the issue.
• Help ensure that climate and energy policies adequately prioritize the needs of vulnerable populations and maximize health and community benefits.
By working together and collaborating across issues, philanthropy can have a transformational impact on communities and health outcomes for generations to come.
• Infuse key values such as health, equity, and economic development into the resilience agenda.
• Focus on communities and populations facing forthcoming climate change threats on top of preexisting challenges.
• Amplify health leadership in climate change engagement through convening programs, communication research and training, and public service campaigns.
• Collaborate on climate-friendly actions that are win-wins across multiple interests, such as better housing, improved transportation and land use, and sustainable agriculture.
For more details about how philanthropy can help support climate policy, boost collaboration between climate-health stakeholders, and invest in the health and well-being of communities, download the full report here.
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