Image credits: Patrick Hendry on Unsplash, 2015

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 focusing on adaptation to climate change impacts on human, animal and plant health. 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.

Policy Framework 

Human health

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.

Plant Health

In October 2016, Regulation on protective measures against plant pests (EU 2016/2031 - “Plant Health Law”) was adopted, which should 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 216, Regulation on transmissible animal disease ((EU) 2016/429 – Animal Health Law) was adopted. This single, comprehensive new animal health law will support 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 will help to reduce the occurrence and effects of animal epidemics.


Improving the knowledge base

Human Health

Consequences of climate change on human health have been estimated in the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C, with adaptation expected to be more challenging at 2°C of global warming than for 1.5°C. The topic of food security for human health in the perspective of climate change has been addressed by the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL), especially considering availability, access, utilisation and stability of food. The 2014 Fifth Assessment 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.

An analysis of developments in health policies in EU Member States, addressing adaptation to climate change as well as providing several good practice case studies was released in November 2018 by WHO Regional Office for Europe.

The indicator based assessment of past and projected climate change and it impacts on ecosystems and society, published in 2017 by EEA, covered climate change impacts on human health with contributions from WHO Europe and ECDC. Member States involved in this study reported that they had strengthened their public health capacities and their health systems to cope with impacts of climate change. Countries reported a wealth of activities on health system strengthening, with strong overall performance on early warning systems, infectious disease surveillance and implementation of the International Health Regulations 2005. Examples of strengthening infectious disease surveillance included increasing the frequency or number of sites of monitoring, expanding the list of notifiable infectious diseases, enhancing case definitions, updating protocols, initiating new monitoring for vectors and enhancing coordination between related institutions on infectious disease and vectors.

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, Ramses, Responses & 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 multi-annual 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.

Highlighted indicators

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