Home Policy context National climate and health policy analysis 2022
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Climate change and health: overview of national policies in Europe

This page summarises the investigation carried out into the EEA’s 38 member and collaborating countries’ policies on climate change adaptation and their national health strategies, as the key policy areas through which climate change impacts on health can be addressed. The total of 37 national adaptation policy and 34 national health policy documents were reviewed, as respective policies did currently not exist in all countries. The detailed findings are available in the background report.

Key messages

  • Addressing climate change impacts on health in an effective manner requires actionable national policies. The emphasis on health in national climate change adaptation policies, and the consideration of climate change impacts in the national health strategy are key.
  • The review of national policies of 38 EEA member and cooperating countries suggests that climate change impacts on health are commonly addressed in national adaptation strategies, but less frequently in national health strategies.
  • Climate hazards that are the most frequently covered in national adaptation and health policy documents are heatwaves and drought; heavy precipitation and flooding; general temperature rise; increasing risk of pathogens and infectious diseases; and more intense and frequent storms.
  • Both adaptation and health policies largely focus on the current and projected impacts on physical health, the most frequent being infectious and vector-borne diseases; increased air pollution; heat impacts on cardiovascular and respiratory systems; and injuries from extreme weather events. Mental health impacts are less frequently covered, and only a small proportion of the reviewed documents considered social health impacts.
  • The most frequently planned interventions to address climate change impacts on health are monitoring and surveillance, including early-warning systems; awareness-raising campaigns for the general public; and continued research into climate change impacts on health.

National adaptation policies crucial for protecting health under the changing climate

National adaptation strategies, plans and climate risk assessments (here referred to as NASs) emerge as the most relevant national policies for addressing climate change impacts on health. Climate change impacts on health are more commonly addressed in NASs than in national health strategies (NHSs). Health impact assessment and response strategy are often integral parts of the national adaptation policies. However, countries’ NHSs less often explicitly address climate change as a public health risk factor. Only few countries have a specific sectoral climate adaptation strategy for health, for example Finland (Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the healthcare and social welfare sector), Ireland (Health Climate Change Sectoral Adaptation Plan), North Macedonia (Climate change health adaptation strategy), or Sweden (Public health in a changing climate – The Public Health Agency of Sweden’s objectives and action plan on climate change adaptation 2021–2024).

Focus on extreme weather events, temperature rise, and infectious diseases

NASs generally include a larger number of climate change-related health hazards compared with NHSs. The most frequently covered hazards are heatwaves and drought, heavy precipitation and flooding, temperature rise, a rise in pathogens and infectious diseases, and more intense and frequent storms (Figure 1). In addition to the hazards in Figure 1, some EEA member states also included specific hazards relevant to their geography and economy (e.g., fish and seafood-related diseases caused by changes in algal and plankton growth conditions in Norway or effects on drinking water due to intensification of erosion and salination of coastal zones in parts of Poland).

Figure 1. Climate-related hazards to health included in the national policies reviewed

Physical health impacts of climate change impacts considered most often

NASs and NHSs largely focus on physical health impacts - from extreme weather events (heat, flooding, storms etc), infectious and vector-borne diseases, and air pollution. There is visibly less emphasis on mental health impacts (such as trauma associated with extreme weather events or climate anxiety).  Only a few countries - such as Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta or Sweden - included in their policies social health effects of climate change, associated for example with loss of community, displacement, or widening of socio-economic disparities. In general, NHSs were integrating climate change-related health impacts to a lesser extent than NASs (Figures 2 – 4 below), except for food-borne diseases.

Figure 2. Physical health impacts of climate change included in the national policies reviewed

Figure 3. Mental health impacts of climate change included in the national policies reviewed

Figure 4. Social health impacts of climate change included in NASs and NHSs

Most frequent measures planned: monitoring, awareness raising and research

The actions to prevent or reduce the climate impacts on human health in NASs and NHSs commonly included a mix of structural/physical, social, and institutional interventions (IPCC, 2014). Among these three types, social interventions were the most common for both NASs (included in 35 documents) and NHSs (in 24 documents). Institutional interventions were present in 31 NASs and 18 NHSs. Structural/physical category of measures was the least common (in 18 NASs and 12 NHSs).

The most common measure planned to address climate change impacts on health in both NASs and NHSs is development of monitoring and surveillance systems to track climate change related impacts, including the implementation of early warning systems (Figure 5). Awareness-raising campaigns and outreach to the public was the second most frequently listed type of measure in NASs, followed by continuous research. In the NHSs, the pattern was reversed as research into climate change impacts on health was the second most frequently listed measure, followed by awareness raising actions. 

The accompanying background report provides examples of these measures in the national policies.

Note: EWS – early-warning systems; NBS – nature-based solutions

Figure 5. Measures to address climate change impacts on health in the national policies reviewed

Country-specific information

The map viewer below presents the geographical distribution of the climate impacts on health considered in NASs and NHSs, and the planned policy measures. The more detailed information about coverage of climate change and health in the adaptation and public health policies of the individual countries can be found in the climate and health country profiles.

Tips for using the map viewer

The dataset has been prepared and made available under the EEA – European Commission (RTD) Service Level Agreement on “Mainstreaming GEOSS Data Sharing and Management Principles in support of Europe’s Environment”

Further information

Climate change and health: the national policy overview in Europe 2022 (background report).

References

IPCC (2014) Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability — part A: global and sectoral aspects: contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.