Climate change and health
Climate change has been described as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century”, putting the “lives and wellbeing of billions of people at increased risk”.
Tackling climate change, however, presents “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century” , where local solutions and collaborations are key to success.
What are the impacts and who is at risk?
Climate change acts as a ‘threat multiplier’ by elevating existing health risks to a higher level. For example, while there has always been the risk of death and illness from an extreme heat event, our warming climate has made these events more common and of greater severity, making the scale of the issue much larger than in the past.
Because of this multiplier effect, those already vulnerable to poor health outcomes are more likely to be at risk from a changing climate, as they are least able to adapt, prepare and respond to the variety of climate change threats.
These potential threats include:
- increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, including bushfires, floods, cyclones, drought and heatwaves
- emerging environmental challenges (e.g. increased pollen, increased air pollution, increased ozone, UV radiation) exacerbating various chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases
- rising rates of infections such as malaria, diarrhoea, meningitis and dengue fever, due to the increased spread of vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks
- challenges to mental health as a result of displacement and migration
- water and food insecurity as a result of the impact of extreme events, resulting in reduced fishery and agricultural productivity
- changes to the price and quality of fresh food as a result of extreme events, increasing the likelihood of poor nutrition
- loss of biodiversity, leading to increases in pests and potential ecosystem collapse
- other social factors, including decreased work capacity, increased migration, increased conflict and increased homelessness [2,3].
What is the Tasmanian Government doing?
In 2019, the Tasmanian Government held the first Tasmanian Climate Change and Health Roundtable event. This event brought together a number of researchers, clinicians and policy makers from around Australia to discuss the priority areas for climate change and health in Tasmania. Over 40 actions were identified across seven priority areas. The report from this event is available to download here:
Where can I go for more information?
- The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change
- The Medical Journal of Australia: The 2019 report of the MJA-Lancet Countdown on health and climate change
- The World Health Organisation: Climate change
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: The Value of Local Heatwave Impact Assessment: A Case-Crossover Analysis of Hospital Emergency Department Presentations in Tasmania, Australia
- Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, Ball S, Bell S, Bellamy R, Friel S, Groce N, Johnson A, Kett M, Lee M, Levy C, Maslin M, McCoy D, McGuire B, Montgomery H, Napier D, Pagel C, Patel J, de Oliveira J, Redclift N, Rees H, Rogger D, Scott J, Stephenson J, Twigg J, Wolff J, Patterson C. 2009. Managing the health effects of climate change, Lancet, 373 (9676), pp. 1693-1733. www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(09)60935-1.pdf
- Watts N, Adger W, Agnolucci P, Blackstock J, Byass P, Cai W, Chaytor S, Colbourn T, Collins M, Cooper A, Cox P, Depledge J, Drummond P, Ekins P, Galaz V, Grace D, Graham H, Grubb M, Haines A, Hamilton I, Hunter A, Jiang X, Li M, Kelman I, Liang L, Lott M, Lowe R, Luo Y, Mace G, Maslin M, Nilsson M, Oreszczyn T, Pye S, Quinn T, Svensdotter M, Venevsky S, Warner K, Xu B, Yang J, Yin Y, Yu C, Zhang Q, Gong P, Montgomery H, Costello A. 2015. Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health, Lancet, 386 (10006), pp. 1861-1914. www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)60854-6.pdf
- World Health Organization, 2012. Atlas of Health and Climate, www.who.int/globalchange/publications/atlas/report/en