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Preventing epidemics in the era of climate change with better financing

by Hong Ruichen


At the start of 2020, serious cases of pneumonia occurred in the city of Wuhan, China; caused by a coronavirus the disease has gone on to infect thousands of people across the world. At this point there is no doubt that the Chinese economy is going to take a hit. In the short term, the epidemic will have a negative impact on China's tourism, catering, hotel and other consumer industries. For reference, the SARS epidemic in 2003 caused domestic tourism revenue to decline by 11.2% and many restaurants and hotels closed down as a result.


The outbreak of COVID-19 during the Chinese New Year, a heyday for domestic consumption, will increase the economic pain and affect Chinese exports as well. Obviously, there are various reasons for the emergence of this epidemic, its expansion and its spread - all worthy of deep and focused attention.


One of the outcomes should be a dedication to further improve public health and awareness by the government. Modern medical research confirms that climate change has increased the chance of spreading infectious diseases. In this article, we explain how the spread of infectious diseases are exacerbated by climate change, and we propose a range of policy recommendations through the prism of green finance.




Under climate change we will see more epidemics


Climate change is having and will have long-term impact on human beings and their living environments; directly and indirectly affecting human society and restricting socio-economic development. High temperatures and drought, infectious diseases, rising sea levels, reduced crop yields, and changes in global rainfall patterns, all endanger human health and all can be traced back to climate change.Scientists have confirmed that climate change is making infectious diseases easier to spread. It does so via four channels: changing pathogens, changing disease transmission channels, changing autoimmune system of animals and humans, and the destruction of ecological environments.


(1) Climate change and the acceleration and variance of pathogens


Pathogen, or germs in common parlance, are the carriers of diseases. Global climate change is accelerating reproduction and spread of pathogens via faster mutations, greater variation, faster distribution, and better adaption to hosts. Each evolution of the pathogen lays the groundwork for the next outbreak. The increase in bacteria resistance may also lead to the ramping up of superviruses, making clinical diagnosis and treatment difficult. Pathogen mutation comes down to the number of generations and the reproduction time for each generation, and temperature can directly affect the reproduction rate of many pathogens.


(2) Climate change and the spread of infectious diseases


Global warming has led to changes in the geographical distribution of plants and animals and as a result arboviruses and parasitic diseases have spread along the migration vectors. Climate change has revived some pathogens that were considered eliminated. Dengue fever was originally extinct in the Caribbean, Brazil, Peru and other places, but it has made a comeback in these regions as the climate warms. The emergence of new pathogens poses fatal dangers to human society, because in a newly established ecosystem, microorganisms usually has absolute advantages - bull in a China-store scenario. In addition, when the climate is warming the breeding and reproduction of insects facilitates the propagation and development of pathogens in vector insects - as we are seeing in central Africa at the moment.


At the same time, climate change has also affected the habitat of wild animals, increasing the possibility of virus carriers getting closer to and infecting humans. What's more, climate change will cause some pathogens to directly or indirectly change the intermediate or final host through mutation, forming new infectious diseases that infect humans. For example, avian influenza and atypical pneumonia originally infected only birds and some mammals, but the pathogens of these diseases have been found in humans and now endanger the health of infected people.


(3) Climate change and the fragility of animal and human immune systems


Experiments have confirmed that medium-wave UVB radiation in the atmosphere can damage the ability of the immune responses and increase the possibility of infections. UVB reaching the earth is mainly absorbed in the ozone layer. Research shows that for every 1% reduction in ozone content in the atmosphere, UVB reaching the earth surface increases by 1.5% -2.0%. But greenhouse gases such as methane and fluoride can chemically react with ozone and deplete ozone, resulting in an increase in UVB in the atmospheric environment, reducing human and animal resistance to certain infectious diseases, increasing incidences, aggravating the disease and prolonging the disease duration. It has been medically proven that patients with moderate infections of tuberculosis, AIDS, and leprosy can develop into fatal infections under UVB-induced immunosuppression.


(4) Climate change has a negative impact on the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases


Currently, the energy crisis, environmental pollution issues, food shortages and other livelihood issues is affecting human life around the globe. The deterioration of the environment makes pathogenic bacteria more likely to reproduce and mutate. Some viruses that exist in nature and do not affect human health can mutate and spread to humans through intermediate hosts, causing epidemics. Some regions have experienced changing rainfall patterns due to climate warming. Natural disasters such as severe floods or droughts have devastated human living environments. Water shortage and the deterioration of sanitary conditions is exposing humans to pathogenic bacteria and causes obstacles in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Floods will expand the spread of water-borne infectious diseases such as cholera and dysentery, and increased migration brought about by natural disasters will create conditions for the spread of infectious diseases.


Tackling climate change is one of the key factors in solving public health problems and funding is urgently needed


(1) Global climate is getting worse


Global is intensifying instead and as the I write above, this will only increase the severity and occurrences of epidemics similar to the one we are experiencing in China at the moment. The latest report from the United Nations Environment Programme shows that emissions continue to grow and there is no sign of peaking. During the ten years from 2010 to 2019, global greenhouse gas emissions increased at a rate of 1.5% per year, and were only temporarily stable between 2014 and 2016, while global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 (including greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes) Emissions) reached 55.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, a new record. According to the current commitments of countries to reduce emissions based on the Paris Agreement, the global temperature increase may reach 3.2 °C at the end of this century.


(2) Huge demand for funding for climate change activities


Because of its public and global nature, coping with climate change requires the concerted efforts of all parties, and financial support is the key to stopping climate change. Domestic and foreign financial institutions, government departments, and the private sector are providing funding to support change. However, due to its long cycle and large funding requirements, climate funding at this stage cannot yet achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement. The relevant forecasts of the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that in order to achieve the temperature targets in the Paris Agreement, the energy sector will need to invest $16.5 trillion USD in the period from 2015 to 2030. The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) estimates that the 2016-2030 climate financing gap is somewhere between $2.5 trillion and $4.8 trillion. If China is to achieve its peak goal of carbon emissions in 2030, the annual climate investment in 2020-2030 should be around 2.5 trillion RMB. The lack of climate funding is a common problem in the global climate investment and financing field.


(3) Urgent need to guide and strengthen climate investment and financing


Faced with a funding gap, climate investment and financing can play a supporting role. The formulation of policies and standards related to climate investment and financing can regulate and guide the precise flow of funds to green and low-carbon areas, promote the development of low-carbon and climate-responsive industries, reduce capital injection into high-polluting and high-emission industries, and optimize the industrial structure. Climate investment and financing tools such as climate credit, climate insurance, climate bonds, climate funds, etc., provide a vehicle for funds to flow to renewable energy, low-carbon transportation, low-carbon buildings, and climate adaptability, ensuring the financing of climate-friendly projects. In addition, climate financing can attract private capital to invest in climate through the establishment of mechanisms such as public and private capital partnerships, thus increasing capital and improve societies’ awareness of project climate and help private capital develop climate projects in subsequent investments.


Climate Financing to Address Public Health Issues


(I) Innovate climate investment and financing models to attract more funds for climate change


At this stage, the sources of climate funds are mainly public financial inputs. Health investments are not yet factored into that equation. The potential for climate investment in health has not been fully appreciated. More social capital can be introduced through innovative climate investment and financing models. Innovative climate credit in the form of climate bonds, climate funds, climate insurance and other climate investment and financing tools, can help explore the financial potential of using climate tools to raise funds health care. Pandemic bonds have already been issued by some institutions and the future issuance of health bonds, could provide a useful vehicle for financing. In addition, the use of the public-private partnership mechanism such as hybrid financing and green PPP should be encouraged in order to establish a risk sharing mechanism to reduce the risk of social capital, better predict a projects income, and increase social capital's preference for climate projects.


(2) Strengthen climate adaptation financing, focus on supporting population health


At present, most climate funds are invested in the field of mitigating climate change, while adaptation is difficult to define due to low economic returns, and thus receives less financial support. The "National Climate Change Plan (2014-2020)" proposes to improve capacity of people's health adaption in the era of climate change. Specifically, it is necessary to improve public medical and health facilities in climate vulnerable areas and improve the prevention and control of climate change-related diseases, especially related to epidemiological research: This includes the changing of laws, the adaptation of strategies and technologies to battle infectious and sudden diseases, the improvement of the living environment for populations in areas exposed to climate change. This is a societal task that requires full support.


The National Strategy for Adapting to Climate Change also lists human health as one of the key tasks for adapting to climate change, and proposes to strengthen the construction of disease prevention and control systems, health education systems, and health and law enforcement supervision systems to improve public health service capabilities. Public health is a part of China's adaptation to climate change. We should increase investment and financing for this part, increase funding for adaptation, and focus on supporting the health of people.


(3) Further encourage climate mitigation financing and reduce emissions


Financing for climate mitigation can alleviate climate warming, curb environmental degradation, and slow down the mutation and spread of viruses. These kinds of funds should receive strong supported from all actors. The government should play a leading role in funding, by increasing public expenditure for climate mitigation activities, while guiding social capital investment, and encourage private funds to invest in clean energy, clean transportation, etc. that have good climate effects. Projects in these areas can reduce emissions and curb the overall trend of global warming. At the same time, the acquisition and use of clean energy should replace the use of traditional fossil fuels, effectively reducing the impact of energy use on the atmospheric environment. The discharge of pollutants could help to improve the environment and improve the quality of human life.


(4) Clarify climate investment and financing standards and accurately guide funds to invest in public health


China's climate financing standard system is currently under consideration, and there is currently no international all covering standard for climate financing activities. The Chinese government should clarify climate investment and financing standards as soon as possible to ensure an accurate flow of funds to climate investments and financing. Some of the current climate bond standards does not include guidelines for supporting public health projects. Strengthening the ability of the public health sector to adapt to climate change is one of the key tools for addressing climate change. Its social and economic effects are devastating and should be clearly included in the climate investment and financing standards. As the response to climate change is a demanding discipline, it requires professional support from the whole of society. To this end, it is necessary to consolidate the coordinated support of various professional fields, introduce climate investment and financing standards as soon as possible, and actively respond to climate change risk that we are facing.

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