Last Update: 24 May 2016
Climate change will generate new health risks and amplify current health problems. Both direct and indirect effects on human, plant and animal health are expected from climate change. Direct effects result from changes in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events like heatwaves and floods. Indirect effects can be felt through changes in the incidence of diseases transmitted by insects (i.e. vector borne diseases caused by mosquitoes and ticks), rodents, or changes in water, food and air quality. The European Commission's EU strategy on adaptation to climate change is accompanied by a Staff Working Document.
The Staff Working Document sets out what the European Commission is doing in this area. Preventing impacts from climate change on public health, as well as animal and plant health, needs to be addressed at many levels and across several policy areas.
The EU health strategy, 'Together for Health' recognizes climate change as a threat to health in the EU, the Community's role to coordinate and respond rapidly to health threats globally and to enhance Member States capacities to do so. The EU Health Programme (2014-2020) includes among its goals the need to protect Union citizens from serious cross-border health threats, including those caused by climate change.
In 2013, the European Union adopted the Decision on serious cross-border threats to health (Decision 1082/2013/EU). This decision strengthens preparedness in the EU and the coordination of responses to health threats. It helps Member States prepare for and protect citizens against possible future pandemics and serious cross-border threats caused by communicable diseases, chemical, biological or environmental events, including climate change.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is in charge of scientific evidence and risk assessments on communicable diseases. The World Health Organisation's Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe), started working on climate change and health in 1997 and is a strong advocate of increased action for climate-related health risk.
In May 2013, the European Commission proposed a new EU plant health regulation which should offer better protection against the introduction and spread of new plant pests. These are introduced by the globalisation of trade and their impacts are exacerbated by climate change. This law was reviewed, and the results summarized in the May 2015 report. This evaluation concluded that stronger measures were needed to mitigate risks introduced by new challenges, in particular by climate change.
The actions under the EU Animal Health Strategy 2007- 2013 focus on tools to improve disease awareness, preparedness, surveillance, prevention and control measures which also includes diseases that may be influenced by climate change. The European Commission adopted in May 2013 a package of measures to strengthen the enforcement of health and safety standards for the whole agri-food chain. This includes a proposal for a new Animal Health Law. The new proposed legal framework is flexible and will allow for necessary adjustment of the measures due to climate change. On 1 June 2015 the European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the animal health proposal in the ordinary legislative procedure which is likely to be effect in 2016.
Improving the knowledge base
The 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability provides an assessment of climate change impacts on human health, stating that throughout the 21st century, climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health in many regions. It lists implementation of warning systems, adaptation of dwellings and workplaces and of transport and energy infrastructure, reductions in emissions to improve air quality, improved wildfire management and development of insurance products against weather-related yield variations as issues and prospects for adaptation to climate change.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the WHO/Europe develop guidance and tools to aid Member States with their climate change health adaptation plans. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also provides some guidance.
ECDC developed the 'European Environment and Epidemiology' (E3) Network, which provides real-time monitoring tools of meteorological conditions to assess the risk of water-borne diseases, climate change risk maps of vector-borne diseases, a Handbook for National Vulnerability Impact and Adaptation Assessments from climate change for communicable diseases, and geospatial datasets for analysing the impacts of global change on infectious disease transmission, as well as other tools for risk assessments. In addition, ECDC and EFSA host VectorNet, a platform for exchanging data on the geographical distribution of arthropod disease vectors in Europe, and have produced a wide range of studies focused on assessing European impacts and vulnerabilities to climate change.
Guidance documents provided by WHO/Europe cover the preparation of national assessments of health effects of climate change; the protection of health from climate change in general (2013) as well as the integration of health into the development of national or subnational (health) adaptation strategies or action plans. Further important WHO/Europe's products include tools like the estimation of health and adaptation costs, policy assessments like the analysis of opportunities for adaptation policies and actions in partnerships at local and national levels, and practical advice for actions for heat waves.
The WHO/Europe summary report "Implementing the European Regional Framework for Action to protect health from climate change" provides an overview of how far Member States in the WHO European Region have progressed in implementing the European Commitment to act on climate change and health.
The indicator report on climate change impacts published in 2012 covered climate change impacts on human health (with contributions from WHO and ECDC). The EEA has published various reports on environment and health, including an assessment report prepared jointly with JRC published in 2013, including also information on impacts of climate change.
Within the FP7 programme results of research and development on climate change adaptation covering the health sector have provided new knowledge and expertise in this field as well as tools to facilitate implementation, funded projects included SudPlan, ClimateCost & UrbanFlood. Funding in this area is being continued under the EU Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020.
Supporting investment and funding
EU funding for adaptation is supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, which ensures that climate adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes. Further information can be found here.
Furthermore, specific EU funding for health-related adaptation is available from the third EU Health Programme, in particular under the priority of protecting Union citizens from serious cross-border health threats, including those caused by climate change.
The EU Health Programme 2008-2013 has supported four actions addressing adaptation to climate change, and the consequences on human health. Three networks (HIALINE, CLIMATE TRAP and PHASE) have addressed the needs on development and co-ordination of early warning and surveillance systems in specific areas (e.g. cold spells, health effects of flooding, airborne allergens, ultraviolet radiation and vector borne and other human and animal infectious diseases) and improved preparedness-response to health emergencies.