2012 NEHA/UL Sabbatical Report: Vulnerability to Potential Impacts of Climate Change: Adaptation and Risk Communication Strategies for Environmental Health Practitioners in the United Kingdom

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In the recent past, scientific uncertainty fueled political debate about global climate change. In 1988, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to provide comprehensive assessments of scientific information related to anthropogenic climate change risk and to write policy reports regarding adaptation and mitigation (IPCC, 2013). Since then, climate change is widely acknowledged to be caused in large part by human activity, and the conversation has changed to be not so much if it is happening but how humans can impact it, what the health implications might be, and how to mitigate and adapt to predicted climate change scenarios.

The 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit led to the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), establishing baseline measurements of greenhouse gas emissions (UNFCCC, 2013a). Agenda 21, or Local Agenda 21 (LA21), encouraged local, national, and international focus on sustainable development for the 21st century (United Nations Environment Programme, 2013). Following the establishment of UNFCCC, annual meetings have been held to assess progress on climate change. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol set legally binding target reductions on greenhouse gas emissions for industrialized countries, with the first commitment period effective from 2008 to 2012 (UNFCCC, 2013b). Although the U.S. did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the UK did (UNFCCC, 2013c).

LA21 provided a framework for local authorities in the UK to examine sustainable development. In 2000, the Nottingham City Council developed the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change to provide guiding principles for local government to implement climate change adaptation and mitigation planning. The document addresses the need for local government to examine service delivery. Fuel efficiency, fuel poverty, and reduction of greenhouse gases were specifically highlighted as important planning factors. The Nottingham Declaration has been signed by numerous local entities in the UK (Nottingham City, 2011).

The Civil Contingencies Act provided a local-to-national framework for emergency response. "Emergency" was broadly defined and can include responses to extreme weather events. The act requires that organizations share information and cooperate in emergency planning and response. It also established Local Resilience Forums, which conduct risk assessments and publish the results as a Community Risk Register (CRR), as a preliminary step for emergency planning. In addition, the act established two categories of responders. Category 1 responders (police, fire, ambulance, local authority, coast guard, port authority, National Health Service, Health Protection Agency [HPA], the Environment Agency/ Scottish Environment Protection Agency) are required to have an emergency planning officer to serve as coordinator. Category 2 responders (such as utility and transportation companies) may be requested to support the actions of the category 1 responders (Elizabeth II, 2004).


Timeline of UK Events


* The Nottingham
Declaration on
Climate Change
provides guiding
principles for local
government to
implement climate
change adaptation
& mitigation


* Civil
Act provided
framework for
broadly defined to
include extreme
weather events

* Environment
Agency begins
developing &
climate change
strategies across
core functions


* Devolution of
power with
limited self-rule
for Northern
Ireland, Scotland,
& Wales


* Climate Change
Act establishes
general framework
for reducing
greenhouse gas

* Health Protection
Agency &
Department of
Health issue joint
report predicting
health effects of
climate change


* Climate Change
implemented by
the Environment

Devolution of power also impacted climate change responses. …