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Adaptation to health effects of climate change in Europe


The main impacts on health in Europe are from heat and heat-waves, changing patterns of infectious and vector-borne diseases, and from extreme disasters like floods and fires. This opinion presents the challenges for the health sector caused by the need for adapting to the increased risks from climate change, and provides recommendations aimed to strengthen the resilience of the health sector in Europe in view of climate change impacts. 

Climate change is already having numerous negative consequences for health, which will get worse with the inevitable rises in temperature. As an example, annual fatalities from extreme heat could rise from 2,700 deaths/year today to ca. 30,000-50,000 by 2050 with the global warming of 1.5 °C and 2 °C, respectively, assuming present vulnerability to heat and without additional adaptation measures. Therefore health needs to be firmly integrated in climate change adaptation.

In public health policy the EU has mainly supporting competences, though it has a stronger mandate in the case of serious cross-border health threats. Through the work of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) some progress has been made in integrating climate-induced threats (such as climate-sensitive vector-borne infectious diseases or extreme weather events) into the EU’s common system of epidemiological surveillance, monitoring, early warning, preparedness and response planning.

Drawing upon a synthesis of scientific evidence including expert consultation, this independent scientific opinion aims to inform the EU’s new Adaptation Strategy and EU health policies with recommendations aimed to limit risks as a result of climate related health effects.

Three main recommendations are made:

  1. Integrate human health into all climate change adaptation policies across all sectors and governance levels.
  2. Support the capacity and preparedness of the health sector as part of broader disaster and emergency risk strategies, including surveillance, monitoring and assessment.
  3. Design policies to support the most vulnerable social groups and geographical areas.

Reference information

European Commission

Published in Climate-ADAPT Oct 22 2020   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Mar 01 2021

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