June 5, 2022

We have only one earth. We must act with urgency to reverse the effects of climate change.

To mark World Environment Day 2022, we are sharing some of our recent work on climate change.

When CHAI was founded, millions of people globally were dying unnecessarily from AIDS. The cost of treatment was too high for many governments, let alone individuals, to afford. CHAI negotiated with pharmaceutical companies to bring the price of treatment down and increase access to life-saving medications. Today over 21 million people living with HIV have access to CHAI negotiated medications that have prolonged their lives.

Climate change threatens to stall and even undo the progress that has been made in health systems and in the fight against many diseases, where CHAI works. Effects of climate change both directly and indirectly affect the health of the people we serve. Extreme heat, natural disasters, social unrest, insufficient food supplies, and disease are just some of the destructive consequences.

Those living in the global south, particularly the most marginalized communities, will be most dramatically impacted. As an example, an opinion piece recently published in the Journal of Climate Change and Health lays out how the climate crisis is exacerbating existing inequities pregnant people and infants face between and within countries.

Climate change will lead to more pregnant women and newborns dying. The global health community can limit its impact.

The biology of pregnancy creates specific vulnerability to climate change. Research has linked severe heat, wildfire smoke, flooding, and extreme weather events to higher rates of maternal and newborn mortality. Due to physiological changes experienced, pregnant women can be more at risk of heat-related illness compared to non-pregnant women. Newborns whose mothers were exposed to extreme heat during pregnancy are at increased risk of stillbirth, preterm birth, and low birth weight. The journal article offers some immediate actions to reverse some of the effects of climate change.

CHAI has always worked with the utmost speed to build a strong foundation for sustainable impact. This remains the case as we support carbon emissions reduction, mitigation, and adaptation activities. Every day we delay, people die. The faster we act, the more lives we can save.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted at the 26th climate summit (COP26) in November 2021, governments must ‘pick up the pace’ on commitments to limit the catastrophic consequences of global warming. CHAI believes that mandate must also apply to the global health sphere. It is critical for all of us to invest in our planet to reverse the effects of climate change.

Investing in our planet: CHAI purchases its first carbon offsets.

We are doing our part. CHAI has purchased its first set of carbon offsets in an important step to mitigate the impact of our global carbon footprint and take accountability for our emissions. This follows CHAI’s announcement in 2021 of the formation and our membership in the Climate Accountability in Development (CAD), a collective dedicated to tracking and reducing its carbon emissions.

CHAI recognizes that our health programs must expand to address emissions in procurement and service delivery and that we must leverage new technologies to enhance facilities. As such, offsets are included in all new proposal budgets and some of our donors have already begun to support this work.

CHAI brings to its sustainability considerations a recognition that countries with the greatest vulnerability to climate change have the least developed health systems. We aim to help public health programs understand and mitigate how the changing climate affects their efforts to reduce disease and save lives, building more resilient systems that can improve the health of populations despite ongoing harmful environmental changes.

While we consider how our individual and organizational actions contribute to climate change every day, climate change days such as Earth Hour, Earth Day, and World Environment Day, provide a unique opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made, recognize how much work must be done to improve the health of the planet we call home and renew our commitment to a more sustainable future.

Earth Hour, in particular, reminds us how small changes can catalyze transformation on a global scale.

Earth Hour at CHAI: Lighting up our response to climate change in ways big and small.

Every year, at 8:30 pm on the last Saturday of March, people around the globe turn off their lights for one hour to raise awareness of the issues challenging our environment. This year, CHAI commemorated Earth Hour by sharing stories of what our staff are doing personally to reduce their carbon footprint. At an organizational level, we have begun to respond to climate change explicitly and systematically at program, leadership, and day-to-day operational levels. We are doing this by:

  • Programs: Alongside our commitment to include offset purchases in all proposal budgets, CHAI is also planning ways for our health programs to address emissions in procurement and service delivery, and to leverage new technologies that enhance the sustainability of facilities.
  • Leadership: CHAI and our partners created CAD. As part of our membership in this organization, CHAI has set the goals of carbon neutrality by 2025 and a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.
  • Daily operations: At the staff level, we are inviting our staff to approach their work with consideration for the climate. Because of the diversity of the work we do, those approaches can be drastically different. We are all finding our own ways to make small changes that recognize our impact on the environment.


Written by Seema Arora, Director, Donor Engagement and Andrew Storey, Senior Director, Maternal and Newborn Health
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