EU health policy

Policy Framework 

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.

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 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 (HERA).

In relation to extreme weather events, such as floods or forest fires, the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) was established in 2013 to strengthen cooperation between the EU Member States (plus Iceland, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey) in the field of civil protection. Added to the UCPM in 2019, rescEU has the objective of enhancing both the protection of citizens from disasters and the management of emerging risks. In addition, rescEU establishes a new European reserve of resources such as airplanes, helicopters and medical equipment. When the scale of an emergency overwhelms the response capabilities of a country, it can request assistance via the Mechanism. For example, fire-fighting personnel and equipment from seven EU countries were mobilised in 2018 to assist Sweden in battling unprecedented forest fires.

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.

Improving the knowledge base

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' (E3) 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. 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 (C3S). Further information on the most relevant research and knowledge projects is available in the Resource Catalogue of this Observatory.

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. An integral part of the Horizon Europe 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, including societal transformation 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.

Supporting investment and funding

The Third EU Health Programme (2014-2020), a funding instrument to support cooperation among EU countries and underpin and develop EU health activities, included among its goals the need to protect Union citizens from serious cross-border health threats, including those caused by climate change.

A number of emerging topical policies – for example on energy efficiency of buildings or sustainable finance - offers opportunities for promoting action addressing health impacts of climate change. The Renovation Wave aims to increase energy efficiency of buildings, recognising that people in energy inefficient buildings are more exposed to extremes of temperature causing hypothermia in winter and heat stress in summer among vulnerable populations. Finally, the EU taxonomy on sustainable finance aims to deliver a healthier and more climate-resilient living environment by directing more investments into environmentally sustainable activities, including to climate change adaptation.