Background: Instituted under the Paris Agreement, nationally determined contributions (NDCs) outline countries’ plans for mitigating and adapting to climate change. They are the primary policy instrument for protecting people’s health in the face of rising global temperatures. However, evidence on engagement with health in the NDCs is scarce. In this study, we aimed to examine how public health is incorporated in the NDCs, and how different patterns of engagement might be related to broader inequalities and tensions in global climate politics.
Methods: We analysed the NDCs in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change registry submitted by 185 countries. Using content analysis and natural language processing (NLP) methods, we developed measures of health engagement. Multivariate regression analyses examined whether country-level factors (eg, population size, gross domestic product [GDP], and climate-related exposures) were associated with greater health engagement. Using NLP methods, we compared health engagement with other climate-related challenges (ie, economy, energy, and agriculture) and examined broader differences in the keyword terms used in countries with high and low health engagement in their NDCs.
Findings: Countries that did not mention health in their NDCs were clustered in high-income countries, whereas greater health engagement was concentrated in low-income and middle-income countries. Having a low GDP per capita and being a small island developing state were associated with higher levels of health engagement. In addition, higher levels of population exposure to temperature change and ambient air pollution were associated with more health coverage included in a country’s NDC. Variation in health engagement was greater than for other climate-related issues and reflected wider differences in countries’ approaches to the NDCs.
Interpretation: A focus on health in the NDCs follows broader patterns of global inequalities. Poorer and climate-vulnerable countries that contribute least to climate change are more likely to engage with health in their NDCs, while richer countries focus on non-health sectors in their NDCs, such as energy and the economy.