Climate change and human health

From policy to action: WHO leading by example

Climate change resulting from human activities is now recognized as one of the most pressing global environmental issues of today. In addressing this problem, the UN system organizations, are committed to control and reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

WHO conducted its first GHG inventory of its headquarter operations in 2008. The results of this inventory were published under the title:

Results of WHO carbon footprint study

The WHO Carbon Footprint for the period 1 January 2008 – 31 December 2008 is 23,668 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).

  • Emissions related to power generation, fuel combustion and refrigerant use account for 20%
  • Emissions related to purchased electricity consumption account for 5%
  • Emissions related to air and rail travel account for 75%

In 2010 a new Issue Management Group on Sustainability Management (IMG) 1 was established to coordinate the "Greening the Blue" project which aims at reducing the environmental impact of UN work across a number of functions and activities including travel, buildings, procurement, staff engagement, meetings and ICT.

In response to the recommendations of the newly established IMG, WHO is revising potential major actions to be undertaken in the areas of travel, behavioural change, building management and it is in the process to finalize a proposal for a WHO emission reduction strategy.

WHO will ‘lead by example’ and provide a basis for raising awareness of similar organizations, of governments, and of the public health community as a whole. The implementation of such a strategy would be accompanied by staff health improvements. Recent studies show that buildings with good overall environmental quality can reduce the rate of respiratory disease, allergy, asthma, sick building symptoms, and enhance worker performance. In addition, the parallel implementation of a policy encouraging the staff to enhance their physical activity and use sustainable transport means to come to work would further contribute to improve staff health conditions.

Related links

1. The mandate of the IMG was expanded to include wider sustainability issues and procurement, in effect merging - the IMG's on a Climate Neutral UN and on Sustainable Procurement