Why health is a climate matter

A climate-safe future means less disease and more well-being, especially for the young and the elderly, women and vulnerable groups.
Pedestrian with breathing mask

Healthy planet, healthy people

Moving to a low-carbon future will allow millions of people to enjoy a healthier and happier life, in regions near-by and across the world. Especially children, women, the elderly and other vulnerable groups will be more protected. Health care systems will be able to offer better care as they are not stressed by patients with illnesses or infectious diseases triggered by ever warmer weather or climate-induced pollution.

A ruined planet cannot sustain human lives in good health. A healthy planet and healthy people are two sides of the same coin.1

Dr. Margaret Chan,
Director-General, World Health Organization (2006–2017)

Children, women, the elderly and other vulnerable groups are most at risk from the effects of climate change.2  They suffer more when droughts, floods and heatwaves brought on by a warming planet lead to more ill-health, poverty and hunger. Cities trap heat and, therefore, heavily built-up regions are especially exposed. This presents a particular problem in places like Europe, where many residents are older or suffer from diabetes and diseases of the heart and lungs.3

  • Active Philanthropy (2020) Climate Philanthropy Guide “Funding the Future – How the climate crisis intersects with your giving”, p. 36

Nine out of ten people today breathe in air that is dangerously polluted.4 In Europe, air pollution currently even poses the greatest environmental risk to health.5 Fighting climate change often equals fighting air pollution. The substances that cause air pollution come from many of the same sources as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or are GHGs themselves.6 And it hits the poor the hardest because they have limited access to health care and often live in heavily polluted areas. Air pollution therefore highlights the extent to which climate, health and social problems are intertwined.7 Climate change also takes its toll on humans’ mental health, as people experience stress and anxiety about their future, or trauma when their livelihoods are affected by extreme weather events.8 Disasters, separation, and displacement, which climate change is making more likely, cause trauma, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, interpersonal violence and even suicide.

Whether your focus is on health, food and farming, infrastructure, energy, or community-based projects, as a philanthropist or social investor, you can improve public health through climate action in many ways.

You can support initiatives to improve health care for patients suffering from climate-induced illnesses. You can support climate-friendly infrastructure projects that contribute to a healthier life in cities, such as parks and greener local environments or better insulated buildings which avoid energy-intensive air-conditioning. Or you can support attempts to reduce traffic pollution – through more public transport and more bicycle lanes or traffic limits for high-polluting vehicles.  

Strengthening the community and fostering physical and mental health is another avenue towards a more sustainable future. You can focus on issues such as nutrition and food security, or fund scientific research on how best to alleviate climate effects on mental health. You can invest in programmes that bring individuals and communities together and, thereby, help reduce stress and anxiety in the wake of climate change.

Funding Example

Clean Air Fund

The Clean Air Fund is a philanthropic initiative tackling air pollution around the world. It connects funders, researchers, policymakers, and campaigners promote solutions providing clean air for all.

Project example: The Clean Air Fund has released a report on the global state of foundations funding clean air initiatives. It analyses investments made to date and provides an overview of the geographies and types of projects being funded. The report contains four recommendations to improve the effectiveness and impact of future funding.

Issues Energy, environment, transport, industry, consumption, technologies
Regions Globally
Lever Political Advocacy, Communication, Research, Networks


Case Studies

  • Clean Air Fund

The Clean Air Fund is a philanthropic initiative working on the intersection of air pollution and climate change mitigation. It brings together funders, researchers, policymakers, and campaigners to tackle air pollution, improve human health, and accelerate decarbonisation around the world.

  • Foundation Healthy Planet - Healthy People

“Healthy Planet – Healthy People” is a foundation that adds the voices of medical professionals to the debate on climate change. Working on the intersections of medicine and climate science, politics and the public, care and environmental protection, the foundation uses education, awareness-raising, and communications to foster climate action.