Health

Image credits: Patrick Hendry on Unsplash, 2015

Key messages

  • Climate change exacerbates mortality and illnesses associated with extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, flooding or wildfires. The changing climate is also projected to introduce new health risks for Europeans, in particular diseases carried by vectors such as tiger mosquitoes. Plant and animal health is also affected by the changing seasonality, weather extremes and new diseases and pests.
  • EU plays a coordinating role in addressing cross-border health threats, including those associated with climate change. The new EU4Health vision (2021-2027) aims to prepare for future health crises.
  • To address the knowledge gap on impacts of climate change on human health, the European Climate and Health Observatory was launched in 2021 under the new EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control manages scientific evidence on climate-relevant communicable diseases. The Horizon Europe research funding programme will further support research on climate and human health.
  • EU Plant Health Law and Animal Health Law of 2016 cover climate-driven risks to crops, forests and farm animals. Knowledge on climate impacts on plant and animal health has been collated through the CLEFSA project of the European Food Safety Authority.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

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 mainly 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.  In addition to effects on human health, climate change is projected to alter life cycles of plants and animals. For example, with the expected increase in temperatures, many plants will start growing and flowering earlier in spring and the growing season will persist for longer period in autumn. Some animals will wake up earlier from hibernation or migrate at different times.

 

Policy framework 

Human health

Preventing impacts from climate change on human health needs to be addressed at many levels and across several policy areas. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the primary responsibility for organizing and providing health services and medical care lies with the Member States. EU health policy therefore serves to complement national policies, and to ensure health protection in all EU policies.

One of the main roles of the EU health policy is coordination of transboundary activities. In 2013, the European Union adopted the Decision on serious cross-border threats to health. 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 those associated with climate change. Under the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, the EU will pursue cross-border health threats, including from climate change, in a new European Health Emergency and Preparedness Response Authority.

In relation to extreme weather events and health, EU policies in relation to disaster risk reduction cover key areas to strengthen cooperation between EU Member States, with the objective of enhancing both the protection of citizens from disasters and the management of emerging risks.

As a first concrete deliverable of the new EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, the European Climate and Health Observatory was launched, to better track, analyse and prevent the impacts of climate change on human health.

The European Green Deal sets out the EC’s commitment to tackling climate and environmental-related challenges. In addition, the proposal for the 8th Environment Action Programme calls for strengthening the links between environmental (including climate) and health policies, including by “monitoring of human health and impacts of and adaptation to climate change”.

The EC has proposed a new EU4Health vision (2021-2027) to strengthen health security and prepare for future health crises. The Proposal for a EU4Health Regulation intends, among others, to “contribute to tackling the negative impact of climate change and environmental degradation on human health”. Furthermore, the European Commission proposal on a European Health Union will further improve coordination of serious cross-border threats including those associated with environment and climatic conditions.

Plant Health

In October 2016, Regulation on protective measures against plant pests (“Plant Health Law”) was adopted, which aims to offer better protection against the introduction and spread of new plant pests. These rules also aim to ensure safe trade, as well as to mitigate the impacts and risks introduced by new challenges, in particular by climate change on the health of our crops and forests.

Animal Health

In March 2016, Regulation on transmissible animal disease (“Animal Health Law”) was adopted. This single, comprehensive new animal health law supports the EU livestock sector in its quest towards competitiveness and safe and smooth EU market of animals and of their products. It also supports better early detection and control of animal diseases, including emerging diseases linked to climate change and aims to help reduce the occurrence and effects of animal epidemics.

The “One health” approach

The existence and sustenance of our planet Earth relies on a symbiotic interaction between humans, animals and the environment we share. In order to ensure the health and the continuing existence of humans, it is necessary to examine the complex interconnectedness and interdependence of all living species and the environment. One Health is an approach based on the synergistic benefit of close cooperation between human, animal, and environmental health sciences. In this context, the EU Commission will pool and connect data, tools and expertise to communicate, monitor, analyse and prevent the effects of climate change on human health, based on a 'One Health' approach.

 

Improving the knowledge base

Human health

The new EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change states the need for a deeper understanding of the climate risks for health. A key development under the new strategy is the European Climate and Health Observatory, an initiative of the EC that aims to support Europe in preparing for and adapting to the health impacts of climate change by providing access to relevant information, including the European and national policy context, impacts of climate change on health in Europe, indicators on climate and health, information systems and tools on climate and health, and early warning systems on climate and health. It also fosters information exchange and cooperation between relevant international, European, national, and non-governmental actors.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is in charge of scientific evidence and risk assessments on communicable diseases, including those associated with a changing climate. ECDC developed the 'European Environment and Epidemiology' Network, which provides real-time monitoring tools of meteorological conditions to assess the risk of water-borne diseases and vector-borne diseases as well as other tools for risk assessments. Moreover, ECDC deals with data collection and surveillance system of food- and water- borne diseases and zoonoses, some of which are expected to increase due to the impacts of climate change. In addition, ECDC and European Food Safety Authority (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.

The European Union has funded the development of relevant information and expertise in the area of climate and health through the EU Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 and the development of the Copernicus Climate Change Service. Further information on the most relevant research and knowledge projects is available in the Resource Catalogue of the European Climate and Health Observatory.

An integral part of the Horizon Europe (2021-2027) research framework is the EU missions, which are commitments to solve major societal challenges, including adaptation to climate change. The EU Mission on climate change adaptation will operate as a portfolio of actions (research projects, policy measures or even legislative initiatives) to adapt to climate change. The proposed mission’s summary emphasises the need to protect human health and well-being from climate impacts (including high temperatures, extreme weather events and infectious diseases), with a particular focus on vulnerable population groups. In addition, the Mission on climate-neutral and smart cities includes fostering a just transition to improve people’s health and well-being, with co-benefits, such as improved air quality or healthier lifestyles, emphasizing the important nexus of climate change adaptation, mitigation and health.

Plant and Animal health

The One Health European Joint Programme, through the existing links with the national authorities and policy makers within EU member states, boasts a landmark partnership of 38 acclaimed food, veterinary and medical laboratories and institutes, with the goal to harmonize approaches, methodologies, databases and procedures for the assessment and management of foodborne hazards, emerging threats and antimicrobial resistance across Europe.

Climate change as a driver of emerging risks for food and feed safety, plant, animal health and nutritional quality (CLEFSA) project was run between 2018 and 2020 by EFSA. CLEFSA has identified numerous issues that are driven by climate change and that may affect food safety in Europe, including occurrence and intensity of some food-borne diseases and the establishment of invasive alien species harmful to plant and animal health; occurrence, intensity and toxicity of blooms of potentially toxic marine and freshwater algae and bacteria, on the dominance and persistence of various parasites, fungi, viruses, vectors and invasive species, harmful to plant and animal health; and (re)emergence of new hazards, increase the exposure or the susceptibility to known hazards and change the levels of micronutrients and macronutrients in food and feed items.

 

Supporting investment and funding

Human-, plant- and animal- health

In December 2020, the EU published its Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the years 2021 to 2027. More than 50% of the total amount of the next long-term budget and NextGenerationEU is dedicated to the support of the modernisation through policies that include research and innovation, via Horizon Europe; fair climate and digital transitions, via the Just Transition Fund and the Digital Europe programme; preparedness, recovery and resilience, via the Recovery and Resilience Facility, rescEU and a new health programme. In this context, EU4Health - the biggest EU health programme to date (€ 2.45 billion, + € 3.30 billion under MFF art.5) – aims to prevent diseases and promote health and international health cooperation through the support of actions to prevent, prepare for and respond to cross-border health threats. EU4Health will make a significant contribution for the next years through the ‘one health’ approach – when applicable – recognizing formally that human health is strictly connected to animal health and to the environment.

The research funding programme Horizon Europe (2021-2027) will amount to EUR 94 billion to increase European support for health and climate-related research and innovation activities.  

A comprehensive overview can be found on the EU funding of adaptation measures page.

Highlighted indicators

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Resources

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