Climate change is anticipated to have wide-ranging consequences for human population health. Public health depends particularly on sufficiency of food, safe drinking water, secure community settlement and family shelter, and the environmental and social control of various infectious diseases. These health determinants can be affected by climate. Technological actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or to reduce the health (or other) impacts of climate change can themselves affect population health. Therefore, the evaluation and full-cost accounting of technologies introduced to mitigate climate change must include an assessment of the health impacts of those technologies.
The uncertainty about future local and regional health impacts of climate change means that intervention strategies that also produce current public health benefit are more acceptable. For example, reductions in fossil fuel combustion and changes in transport policy have the potential to achieve prompt reductions in mortality and morbidity. Since these "secondary" health benefits of mitigation occur primarily within local populations, Clean Development Mechanism projects that entail bilateral investment in GHG mitigation strategies can achieve immediate and substantial health gains in low-income countries.
A population's vulnerability to adverse health impacts of climate change is usually amplified by socio-economic deprivation. Social policies that reduce socio-economic and environmental vulnerability will therefore mitigate the effects of climate change. Maintaining and strengthening national public health infrastructure is therefore fundamental to effective adaptation to climate change. Adaptation strategies should be undertaken principally via public agencies. To facilitate the process, the public policies and institutional arrangements that currently impede adaptation to environmental conditions should be identified.
Both the existing and the future-potential environmental health problems share many underlying causes, relating to poverty, inequality and social and economic practices. Reducing levels of resource consumption in Annex I countries and slowing down population growth in other countries will help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and their consequent climate-mediated health impacts, while also bringing early public health benefits. The protection and improvement of population health must be recognised as a central goal of environmentally sustainable development.
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