Gaia blog

Climate change is a public health crisis

16.12.2021

Words by Philippe Duneton, Executive Director, Unitaid

The initiative to take climate action originally came from within our organization. Responding to global public health challenges is at the heart of our mandate, and many people at Unitaid felt that it was our duty and entirely part of our mission to also credibly look into this and explore how to meaningfully address challenges and the negative public health consequences linked to climate change.

It took us 18 months or so to internally complete our thought process, and to eventually come up with a first, actionable climate action roadmap covering both our Secretariat and our investment portfolio. Throughout this internal journey, departing from a solid, objective and factual assessment of our carbon footprints was very important to us as we wanted to be data- and impact-driven from the outset; we also positioned this carbon footprint assessment as a learning exercise to eventually grow our internal knowledge. Gaia has been instrumental in this learning curve.

The climate strategy we eventually came up with is very simple: we want to pursue credible carbon emission reduction strategies lined up with the Paris agreement targets. We firstly want to work on the reduction of our carbon footprint within own organizational boundaries with a net-zero objective from 2022 for our Secretariat. More importantly, we also want to explore concrete and impactful way to reduce the carbon footprint of our investments, working with partners throughout the value chain. Our portfolio of investment is where our largest carbon impact is but also where we have the most action levers.

On the side of this, I believe it was a learning process for Gaia as well. Not only in the sense of climate action, in which Gaia is highly professional, but also in applying the climate action framework to very specific projects in the field of public health, such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Covid-19.

As highlighted in WHO’s recent COP26 special report on climate and health, climate change is the single largest public health crisis the world is facing and it affects even more prominently underserved and vulnerable populations. This is why we see climate action not only as good citizenship but also health leadership, promoting equitable and sustainable access to healthy living conditions. We encourage the UN community and our partners to take similar steps and implement concrete action plans. And many are already doing just that. It’s critical that we work together on this; this is the sense of history.

As a last word, we at Unitaid are currently in the process of updating our strategy, and it is already clear that climate action will play a part in it. We will continue to engage with our current partners to simultaneously fulfill our mission and find ways to reduce our carbon footprints.

We are also very much looking forward to new partnerships, be it on the climate finance front or on new solutions at the intersection between public health and climate change. I am very optimistic that this can lead to new breakthroughs in both health innovations and in climate action.

Philippe Duneton, Executive Director, Unitaid

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