July 3, 2023 Policy Briefs

Driving transformative action: from Ostrava to Budapest and beyond with National Portfolios of Actions on Environment and Health: policy brief

This policy brief was drafted by Maike Voss and Franziska Matthies-Wiesler with additional research support from Bea Albermann, Sophie Gepp, Maurice Remy, Nikolaus Mezger and Maike Bildhauer (Centre for Planetary Health Policy, Berlin). The development of this policy brief was coordinated by the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, with technical input and conceptualization from Dovile Adamonyte and Stephanie Sangalang, and reviewed overall by Francesca Racioppi and Massimo Cozzone. WHO gratefully acknowledges contributions from the members of the European Environment and Health Task Force. WHO would like to extend our gratitude to all Member States for providing information on their National Portfolios of Actions on Environment and Health and for sharing their experiences in the survey and interviews.

The work published in this policy brief was supported by funds from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, and the Government of Hungary.

Key messages

This policy brief summarizes the results of an assessment of the implementation of the Ostrava Declaration commitment to develop National Portfolios of Actions on environment and Health (NPs). It presents recommended actions to guide policy- and decision-makers in Member States of the WHO European Region to develop and strengthen NPs. The key messages from the assessment are as follows:

  • Member States have set their own priorities for environment and health policies and actions in accordance with the Ostrava Declaration, with some Member States including additional topics relevant for their country context (e.g. biodiversity loss).
  • Countries predominantly use NPs to summarize and report existing environment and health policies and activities across sectors on a national level. NPs have the potential to be used as a tool for communication, for strategically planning future activities and decision-making, and for evaluation of progress towards national environment and health targets, especially when linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). NPs may support further consideration of environment and health issues in national legislation.
  • NPs assist decision- and policy-makers in tracking implementation of existing policies and actions and thus provide an overview of progress towards national objectives and support prioritization related to environment and health issues. NPs can inform decision-makers as to where limited resources should be invested to achieve effective and timely action.
  • Using NPs to guide the implementation of health and environment actions can support cross-sectoral coordination through collaboration and dialogue at national and local levels. Implementing NP actions effectively requires a cross-sectoral approach to evidence and research, capacity-building, implementation and review, at a local level. The NP can be used as a “health and environment in all policies” tool to coordinate with other sectors at all levels.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of NP implementation can drive priority setting, as well as identify gaps and new topic areas (such as One Health and biodiversity loss) to be included when updating NPs.
  • Policy-makers are encouraged to address challenges in NP development and implementation through, for example, advocating for consistent political support, mediating between ministries, setting up coordinating and monitoring mechanisms, and building capacity. To this end, active knowledge exchange and sharing of experiences and good practice examples are essential for an effective NP development, implementation and review process.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the respective response measures disrupted the environment and health agenda. Shifts in political priorities, the transfer of human resources towards COVID-19 response teams and a high fluctuation of staff drew away attention and resources from environment and health action. Many Member States still face challenges in implementing interventions for a green and healthy recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in line with WHO recommendations. In some instances, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a better understanding of the significance of public health and the need for integrated approaches – such as One Health and Planetary Health – in policy- making, public communication, capacity-building and research.
  • The NP development and implementation process carries strong potential to be used as a strategic planning instrument and as a tool to implement transformative action in environment and health on all levels. To make use of NPs’ full potential, they should be anchored in existing evidence and guidelines on environment and health action (e.g. WHO guidelines on air quality) and linked to the commitments of the forthcoming Budapest Declaration. Through cross-sectoral training and opportunities for exchange, capacities can be built and strengthened among national focal points, the health and environment workforce at ministries and youth representatives, to promote transformative action on environment and health.