The intimate relationship between health and the environment is becoming increasingly apparent and fragile as the climate crisis progresses. Globally, the effects of climate change are projected to induce at minimum an additional 250,000 deaths annually between 2030 and 2050.

As COP26 gets underway, we also know that climate-induced anxiety is on the rise. Understanding of and engagement with the health-environment intersection needs to urgently improve and we hope it will be a big part of discussions at the climate talks in Glasgow.

National and international inequalities mean that the poorest populations are most affected by the environmental determinants of health. For example, a lack of access to green space for lower socio-economic populations in the UK has been linked to worse physical and mental health outcomes. Yet the benefits of investing in these spaces are huge. Annually, London’s green spaces are estimated to save some £580m by contributing to better physical health, and £370m by contributing to better mental health.

Further afield, Africa experiences a disproportionately high share of the global disease burden, with approximately 23% of this burden attributed to unhealthy environments, such as poor water, sanitation, hygiene, and air pollution. However, the continent contributes very little to global greenhouse emissions, estimated to be 4%, demonstrating a stark injustice for this population.

NPC is currently developing a briefing for funders on the intersection of the environment and health as a part of the Environmental Funders Network’s (EFN) Healthy Planet, Healthy People webinar series. As a part of this work, funded by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), we surveyed health funders and found a lack of engagement with this intersection.

Health funders working in this space can have a meaningful impact on these issues. Yet, the intersection between health and the environment must be better recognised and understood to allow for informed and impactful change.

With COP26 taking place in the first week of November, our timely discussions at NPC Ignites 2021, our annual conference, focused on the health-environment intersection. Florence Miller, Director of EFN, laid out the complex web of connections between the environment and human health. Florence demonstrated that cause and effect flows both ways and that focusing on one aspect of the web would have far-reaching benefits for both health and the environment. For example, improving our diet through eating less meat improves our health and also reduces greenhouse gas emissions from our food system.

Despite this widespread potential, only 4% of UK philanthropic funding was attributed to global environmental issues. Florence remarked that this is a ‘tiny fraction … that is going towards the issues that essentially underpin not only our health and well-being, but our entire economy and … survival as a species’.

Funders, and COP26 delegates, need to recognise that the time to invest in environmental projects is now and that there will be positive implications for health in any area they choose to focus their funding.

Read the full article about the climate crisis by Jasmine Birmingham at NPC.