Care about economic mobility, public health, or democracy? Climate change should be an integral part of your impact strategies

Sep 28, 2021Climate & Environment, Global Health, Perspectives, Shared Prosperity, US Health

Climate and the environment are often thought of as a distinct area of interest far removed from the concerns of daily life. But the environment is not just tropical rainforests and coral reefs—the environment is all around us. It’s where we live, work and play. It’s the air we breathe, the food we eat, the places we visit, the products we consume, the things we cherish. It is the medium in which all life occurs. In the words of Canadian broadcaster and environmental activist David Suzuki, “we are the environment; there is no distinction”. Yet we continue to frame climate and the environment as distinct, resulting in the relegation of climate change – the most perilous and pressing issue of our time – to the sphere of climate and environment experts and activists, rather than decisionmakers across the board.

This conceptual isolation of climate from other health, economic, and development objectives has pervaded decision-making bodies, leading to siloed and myopic climate planning. But, as with other environmental issues, climate change is not merely an environmental problem. The data is clear: climate change affects all dimensions of human life, including the economy, housing, immigration, public health, food systems, national security, and political stability. Its far-reaching effects mean that achieving carbon neutrality will require that climate be embedded into frameworks across all sectors and industries rather than existing as a standalone issue.

The economy, public health, and democracy are three areas of critical significance under threat from climate change that carry massive societal ramifications. When the ability to earn a living, lead a healthy life, and live in a society that affords agency and autonomy are endangered, we risk losing the very elements at the core of human flourishing.

Economic mobility

Climate considerations and economic needs are often treated as a zero-sum game. This tension has been made clear in France, where proposed gas tax hikes sparked violent nationwide protests, and in Brazil, where the commercial upside from plundering the Amazon rainforest eclipsed the historic environmental fallout.[1] Climate action is hindered by entrenched economic interests that not only perpetuate economic injustice and inequality but reap sizeable profits from the destruction of the planet.

In reality, climate and the economy are deeply interdependent. Many of the sectors and industries underpinning the global economy—including agriculture, tourism, fisheries, and real estate—depend on a stable climate. Climate change has already begun to threaten key industries and supply chains, hampering economic growth and exacerbating economic hardship and inequality. For developing countries whose economies rely almost entirely on natural resources, the situation is dire, threatening the livelihoods of millions of low-income people across the globe. In addition to impacting climate-dependent industries, the natural disasters brought on by rising global temperatures bring entire economies to a halt and cause billions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage each year. For homeowners living in disaster-prone areas (often marginalized groups), a changing climate can be catastrophic, costing many their homes and oftentimes only financial assets. On the global stage, these disruptions can translate into mass migration, placing even more strain on tight labor markets and dwindling public programs.

Fortunately, while climate change and economic prosperity face entwined challenges, they also face shared opportunities. Investing in renewable energy, climate technologies, and green infrastructure can not only help mitigate climate change, but also reinvigorate economies and create jobs, ensuring sustainable long-term economic growth. Empowering women and girls—touted as one of the best climate solutions at our disposal—is another vehicle for achieving the dual-objectives of advancing global economic development and combatting climate change. But while such common solutions are plentiful—and almost obvious—we need leaders and decisionmakers to execute them, and this requires adopting an interdisciplinary approach that factors climate into deliberations on the economy.

Public health

Climate change is intensifying a host of public health issues. Vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and Zika virus, thrive in warmer conditions. Unstable climates and ecosystems increase the prevalence of pandemics caused by zoonotic diseases[2], the calamitous impact of which the world has witnessed over the past year. Noncommunicable diseases, such as heat strokes and respiratory illnesses, are on the rise. More than 10 million people die from pollution each year. Compounding these health concerns are the nutritional challenges brought on by a changing climate. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and warmer temperatures impede crop growth, affecting both the quality of produce and quantity of agricultural yields. This is not to mention extreme weather events that eliminate entire harvests at a time, robbing farmers of their already meager incomes. A warming climate will mean increasingly smaller yields and less nutritious crops, in a world where 690 million are already undernourished. While these effects will be most prominent in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), high-income countries will not be immune to rising food prices and diminished nutrient density. The health repercussions of a changing climate are also acutely and overwhelmingly female. Women are more likely to be killed in the event of a natural disaster. In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, women died at four times the rate of men in highly affected areas.[3][4] For those who survive, the unsafe conditions they endure in temporary shelters and camps leave them at a higher risk of gender-based violence and exploitation.

It is imperative that global health institutions center climate considerations as core to their agenda and priorities. Funding research on climate-induced disease burden would ensure proper planning for pressing health needs in the years to come. Risk analyses must be conducted to adapt public health services and allocate resources towards climate-sensitive public health concerns. Funding is needed for adaption and mitigation. Investing in systems and structures that shield against climate change’s harshest effects (e.g., infrastructure that minimizes the urban heat island effect) will be needed to counter rising temperatures. Climate smart-agriculture can help safeguard our food supply and the livelihoods of millions while sequestering carbon, conserving water, and preserving biodiverse ecosystems.

Democracy & governance

Finally, climate change intersects strongly with issues of democracy and governance. By disrupting ecosystems and economies, climate change threatens to provoke violent conflict and destabilize systems of governance. Such troubling trends have already begun to unfold in parts of the Middle East. In Syria, severe droughts that decimated agricultural production and forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians into poverty and near famine set the stage for the political unrest that prompted the country’s civil war. Similarly, in Iraq, drought-induced poverty afflicting farming populations fueled extremism and sectarian violence, enabling terrorist networks to exploit economic desperation and expand their recruiting base. Conversely, problematic systems of governance also threaten to aggravate climate change. Given that climate-forward agendas and policies are often driven by citizen demands, weak democracies undermine climate action.[5] The rise of nationalist movements and governments in the past decade has eroded democracies and consequently debilitated climate efforts. The increasing spread of disinformation and propaganda through social media has added fuel to the fire, not only endangering the world’s democracies, but also undermining a climate agenda, particularly in the US.

As with other spheres of interest, climate and democracy share commonalities in their path forward. Strengthening democracy, and in particular citizen-climate movements, is key to advancing a climate agenda. Combatting counter-narratives and propaganda, which are core to enhancing democracy and governance, will also be essential in gaining broad support and creating appetite for climate initiatives. And finally, an effective and equitable plan of action that is backed by broad constituencies will require democratizing climate discourse and centering female, BIPOC and LMIC voices, as well as those of rural and resource-based communities.[6][7] An environmental movement led predominantly by White, urban, Global North institutions will invariably fall short by failing to address the needs and challenges of those most affected by the climate crisis.

The path forward

Understanding is growing of the interconnectedness between climate and a wide variety of sectors – from economic prosperity, health, and democracy, to gender equality and racial equity. Some early adopters in these sectors have begun to revisit their social impact strategies through a climate-smart lens, identifying ways in which they may inadvertently be contributing to the climate crisis and how to adapt their approaches to reduce climate shocks. Players like Wellcome Trust and the Belmont Forum have made forays in this area—albeit small ones.[8] More recently, the European Commission has recognized the gaps in climate and health planning, funding projects like ENBEL (‘Enhancing Belmont Research Action to support EU policy making on climate change and health’), which brings together leaders from both spheres to make coordinated advances in knowledge generation and integrated policymaking.[9] USAID has also funded intersectoral climate programming. In 2014, it launched ATLAS (Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments), a 5-year program to “integrate climate risk analysis and adaptation strategies across its portfolio”.[10] USAID’s Gender, Climate Change and Nutrition Integration Initiative (GCAN), which identifies synergistic policies and technologies at the nexus of the three sectors, is another example of the kind of interdisciplinary programming that will move the needle on climate.

While such efforts are laudable, more ambitious efforts are needed to beat climate change, and its host of negative outcomes in other sectors, this late in the game. Other philanthropies, government entities, and the private sector should proactively identify opportunities to support and fund work at the intersections of climate and other sectors and incorporate climate frameworks into existing programs and portfolios. Besides funding, influential organizations can go a long way in effecting change through field-wide agenda-setting and prioritization.[11] Addressing climate helps ensure that progress made in other areas is not lost in a matter of years or decades, and thoughtful planning and execution will be needed to adapt strategies, policies and programs to intentionally address their intersections with climate change and its effects. We at Camber are committed to utilizing our strategic planning, segmentation and coalition building expertise to help bring about change, and we hope you will collaborate with us in the collective effort against climate change.

[1] In 2019, a record 72,843 fires had burned in the Amazon rainforest by August of that year, a roughly 80% year-on-year increase, largely as a result of commercial deforestation encouraged by the Bolsonaro Administration



[4] Higher mortality rates among women are largely a result of sociocultural factors: women are less likely to be taught how to swim, and more likely to tend to children or the elderly in emergency situations, impeding their ability to evacuate quickly

[5] In some cases, antidemocratic systems of governance may facilitate rather than impede climate action (e.g. in China) by bypassing the constraints posed by antagonistic public sentiment


[7] For instance, studies show that rural voters in the United States have distrust of federal environmental regulations that are formulated without their input, instead expressing greater affinity towards locally- or state-led efforts that factor their needs and considerations