COP26 highlights links between COVID-19 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reinforcing need for bold action in the recovery process
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the need to catalyse positive change to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and fulfil the environmental agenda. This message was amplified at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).
In a new paper published in The Lancet Planetary Health, a group of WHO and independent researchers used WHO/Europe’s E4As approach – “engage to assess, align, accelerate and account” – to show how policy-makers can ensure that recovery from COVID-19 leads to healthier and more sustainable societies.
“With its call for policy-makers to move beyond their comfort zone and create a world where economic development is not an end goal itself, but a means to secure the health and well-being of people and the planet, our viewpoint is particularly timely with COP26 just behind us,” explains co-author Professor Mark T. Dooris, Professor of Health and Sustainability and Co-Director of the Healthy and Sustainable Settings Unit at the University of Central Lancashire (United Kingdom).
“Discussions have confirmed that climate change and COVID-19 are closely related, and that the climate crisis represents a bigger and more enduring challenge,” Professor Dooris adds.
In the same spirit, the Lancet study emphasizes the importance of heeding citizens’ wishes and expectations. Surveys show that people are increasingly worried about the effects of a changing climate, pointing to more linkages between health and the environment.
For instance, in a forthcoming study conducted by researchers at the University of Bath (United Kingdom), the vast majority of young people between the ages of 16 and 25 stated that they are extremely worried about climate change and expect policy-makers to be doing more to address it.
The paper concludes that recovery from COVID-19 requires commitment and courage from leaders and policy-makers. Only this, the authors emphasize, will ensure that efforts to recover will protect the health of both people and planet.
A transformative approach to accelerate action
WHO’s European Programme of Work 2020–2025 (EPW) sets out a vision of how WHO can support countries as they work to meet their citizens’ expectations about health, including those related to the environment and climate change.
The E4As approach is a tool that countries in the Region can use to accelerate action on the SDGs and meet these expectations, in line with the ambitions of the EPW.
In the E4As, “engage” is the pacemaker that drives action, while the 4 As of “assess, align, accelerate and account” are the building blocks of policies, processes, activities and interventions that need to be put in place to create change.
The recently launched “E4A guide for advancing health and sustainable development” uses the E4As to compile methods, diagnostic tools, guidance documents, processes and mechanisms for better policies to achieve the SDGs and advance health in the Region.
The recently published article in The Lancet Planetary Health illustrates how the approach can be used by policy-makers, public health institutions, academia and civil society within and outside the health sector to develop and implement policies for health and well-being in the COVID-19 recovery and transition.