An Approach for Assessing Human Health Vulnerability and Public Health Interventions to Adapt to Climate Change

By Ebi, Kristie L.; Kovats, Sari R. et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2006 | Go to article overview

An Approach for Assessing Human Health Vulnerability and Public Health Interventions to Adapt to Climate Change


Ebi, Kristie L., Kovats, Sari R., Menne, Bettina, Environmental Health Perspectives


Assessments of the potential human health impacts of climate change are needed to inform the development of adaptation strategies, policies, and measures to lessen projected adverse impacts. We developed methods for country-level assessments to help policy makers make evidence-based decisions to increase resilience to current and future climates, and to provide information for national communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The steps in an assessment should include the following: a) determine the scope of the assessment; b) describe the current distribution and burden of climate-sensitive health determinants and outcomes; c) identify and describe current strategies, policies, and measures designed to reduce the burden of climate-sensitive health determinants and outcomes; d) review the health implications of the potential impacts of climate variability and change in other sectors; e) estimate the future potential health impacts using scenarios of future changes in climate, socioeconomic, and other factors; f) synthesize the results; and g) identify additional adaptation policies and measures to reduce potential negative health impacts. Key issues for ensuring that an assessment is informative, timely, and useful include stakeholder involvement, an adequate management structure, and a communication strategy. Key words: adaptation, climate change, climate variability, human health methods, vulnerability. Environ Health Perspect 114:1930-1934 (2006). doi:10.1289/ehp.8430 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 11 July 2006]

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Over the past decade, it has become clear that the world's climate is changing. In 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities (Albritton and Meiro Filho 2001). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that the global mean temperature of the earth would increase by the end of the 21st century by between 1.4 and 5.8[degrees]C. Global precipitation patterns will also change. This projected rate of warming is much faster than the observed changes during the 20th century and is very likely to be without precedent during at least the last 10,000 years (Albritton and Meiro Filho 2001).

The primary international response to control greenhouse gas emissions is the Kyoto Protocol negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC 2005). The text of the protocol was adopted at the third session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. Because of the long lifetime of some greenhouse gases and the inherent inertia in the climate system, even full compliance with the Kyoto protocol means that adaptation to climate change will be required for at least several decades (Albritton and Meiro Filho 2001). Recent research and policy attention has therefore focused on assessments of potential vulnerabilities and identification of adaptation strategies, policies, and measures (Lim and Spanger-Siegfried 2004; Willows and Connell 2003).

Three broad categories of health impacts are associated with climatic conditions: impacts that are directly related to weather/climate, impacts that result from environmental changes that occur in response to climatic change, and impacts resulting from consequences of climate-induced economic dislocation, environmental decline, and conflict (McMichael et al. 2001). Changes in the frequency and intensity of heat events and extreme rainfall events (i.e., floods and droughts) will directly affect population health. Indirect impacts will occur through changes in the range and intensity of infectious diseases and food- and waterborne diseases, and changes in the prevalence of diseases associated with air pollutants and aeroallergens.

Concerns about climate change have led international agencies, nongovernmental and regional institutions, and national organizations to undertake vulnerability and adaptation assessments.

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An Approach for Assessing Human Health Vulnerability and Public Health Interventions to Adapt to Climate Change
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