A WHO-led global strategy to control greenhouse gas emissions: a call for action

Global Health. 2024 Jan 2;20(1):4. doi: 10.1186/s12992-023-01008-6.


Background: Climate change, driven by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, is among the greatest threats to human health. The World Health Organisation (WHO), has led global efforts to respond to emerging public health threats including the control of hazardous substances such as tobacco, alcohol, lead and asbestos, with remarkable health gains. BODY: Despite WHO's clear messaging on the enormous and growing health risks of climate change, greenhouse gases are not yet classified as hazardous substances, requiring control through a global strategy or framework. Additionally, WHO has not classified disease attributable to climate change as a result of the promulgation of these hazards as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), despite the serious and preventable health risks it poses globally. Several historical precedents set the stage for WHO to declare excess greenhouse gases as health hazards, including the control of ozone-depleting substances and breast-milk substitutes where the public benefit of control exceeded the potential benefit of their promulgation. In addition, WHO's undertaking within the International Health Regulations to protect global health, providing imperative to declare climate change a PHEIC, with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, declaring: "The climate crisis is a health crisis, fuelling outbreaks, contributing to higher rates of noncommunicable diseases, and threatening to overwhelm our health workforce and health infrastructure". Importantly, the health sector, perhaps more than other sectors, has successfully overcome formidable, vested interests in combatting these threats to health.

Conclusion: It is thus imperative that WHO make full use of their credibility and influence to establish a global framework for the control of greenhouse gases through the declaration of excess greenhouse gas emissions as a hazardous substance, and declaring climate change a PHEIC. Who else is better placed to drive the considerable societal transformation needed to secure a liveable future?

Keywords: Climate and health; Emissions control; Greenhouse gases; Hazardous substances; Policy; Public health.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Climate Change
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Greenhouse Gases* / adverse effects
  • Hazardous Substances
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • World Health Organization


  • Greenhouse Gases
  • Hazardous Substances