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Climate Change Impacts Human Health

Adaptation Programme

New UN Report Highlights Risks, Opportunities and Solutions

A new UN report says that health risks related to climate change are on the rise worldwide. At the same time, coordinated international responses can help prevent some of the worst impacts of climate change on health.

Youssef Nassef, Director of the Adaptation Programme of the UNFCCC secretariat, says: “the report clearly highlights the need for the UN and partners to continuously strengthen their actions to support governments to build climate resilience, including measures to protect human health.”

The report will be presented to governments during the next round of climate change negotiations to be held in Bonn from 8-18 May 2017.

It was prepared in collaboration with countries, the World Health Organization and other relevant expert organizations, under the Nairobi work programme − UN Knowledge-for-Action Climate Resilience Network. Below follows an overview of the report’s main findings.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate health problems that already pose a major burden to vulnerable populations

The report shares at least five major insights:

1. Certain groups have higher susceptibility to climate-sensitive health impacts owing to their age (children and elderly), gender (particularly pregnant women), social marginalization (associated in some areas with indigenous populations, poverty or migration status), or other health conditions like HIV. The socioeconomic costs of health problems caused by climate change are considerable.

2. Many infectious diseases, including water-borne ones, are highly sensitive to climate conditions.  Figure 1 illustrates the correlation between temperature and diarrhea. A main concern in both developed and developing countries was the increase in and increased geographical spread of diarrhoeal diseases, the report found.

Sensitivity of diarrhoeal disease to meteorological conditions. Source: Checkley W et al. 2000. Effects of El Niño and ambient temperature on hospital admissions for diarrhoeal diseases in Peruvian children. Lancet. 355: pp.442–450. Notes: (1) Section A of the figure shows daily admissions for severe diarrhoea at the main paediatric clinic in Lima; (2) Section B of the figure shows daily variations in temperature for Lima over the same period.


3. Climate change lengthens the transmission season and expands the geographical range of many diseaseslike malaria and dengue. For example, the conditions for dengue transmission are likely to expand significantly across the globe (see figure 2 below)

Changing patterns of infectious disease: dengue transmission. Source: Based on data from Hales S, de Wet N, Maindonald J and Woodward A. 2002. Potential effect of population and climate changes on global distribution of dengue fever: an empirical model. Lancet. 360: pp.830–834. Notes: (1) Section (a) shows dengue fever transmission in 1990; (2) Section (b) shows projected expanded distribution of dengue fever in the warmer, wetter and more humid conditions expected in the 2080s, assuming no change in non-climatic determinants of dengue distribution.

4. C
limate change will bring new and emerging health issues, including heatwaves and other extreme events. Heat stress can make working conditions unbearable and increase the risk of cardiovascular, respiratory and renal diseases. Additionally, it is estimated that 22.5 million people are displaced annually by climate or weather-related disasters, and these figures are expected to increase in the future. Climate-induced human mobility has a socioeconomic cost and can affect mental and physical health.

5. Malnutrition and undernutrition were highlighted as a concern for a number of developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which discussed the impacts of climate change on food security, particularly in relation to floods and drought.

While these risks and challenges are big, there are also many solutions

The report highlights inspiring examples of adaptation solutions for health worldwide:

  • The Climate Adaptation Management and Innovation Initiative of the Word Food Programme develops climate-induced food insecurity analyses and practices to inform programming and decision-making. The initiative focuses on16 countries across Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern, Central and Northern Africa.
  • In France, the Tiger Mosquito Surveillance Network monitors the tiger mosquito’s movements.
  • The Smart Health Facilities Initiative and Smart Hospitals Toolkit is being implemented through the Pan American Health Organization in the Caribbean with the aim of supporting the governments of the selected countries to assess and prioritize vulnerability reduction investments in their health facilities.
  • Some countries integrate health into their national adaptation plans (NAPs) and programmes. For example, Macedonia and six additional countries are part of an initiative of WHO and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety that brings health into adaptation plans.
  • There are also a number of training and awareness-raising activities, including the Self-Learning Course on Climate Change and Health, developed by Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health in line with the joint Pan American Health Organization/WHO Strategy and Plan for Action on Climate Change. The training aims at raising awareness and improving knowledge on the health effects of climate change among the general public and other sectors.

To help scale up adaptation action in countries in the area of human health, various solutions have been proposed in the report that require actions by the UN and partners. As a part of the solution, the Nairobi work programme has developed the 5 step process below:

Five-step process on health and adaptation under the Nairobi work programme

The synthesis paper is available here.

For more information, contact the Nairobi work programme team:

The Nairobi work programme: UN Knowledge-for-Action Climate Resilience Network:

The Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change (NWP) contributes to advancing adaptation action through knowledge in order to scale up adaptation at all governance levels, with a focus on developing countries. It synthesizes and disseminates information and knowledge on adaptation, facilitates science–policy–practice collaboration in closing adaptation knowledge gaps and fosters learning to boost adaptation actions, including through the adaptation knowledge portal. Activities under the NWP involve close collaboration with a network of over 340 partner organizations working on adaptation all over the world. The NWP provides support on adaptation knowledge and stakeholder engagement to Parties, as well as to the Adaptation Committee and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group.

Photo credit: A close view of a cholera infected child resting on the floor of the Doin medical centre near Saint Marc (Haiti). Water borne diseases are highly sensitive to climate conditions. UN Photo/UNICEF/Marco Dormino


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