Global survey of climate change and health policy reveals countries lack preparedness to protect the health of their citizens from climate change
Fiona Armstrong, Climate and Health Alliance, Australia
As reported by diverse scientific and health research organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change poses a central and increasing threat to the health of the world’s people this century.
However, little is known about how national governments are planning for this unprecedented public health challenge.
To address this knowledge gap, the Climate Change Health Policy Assessment Project was developed by the World Federation for Public Health Association’s (WFPHA) Environmental Health Working Group.
An online survey of actions by national governments for completion by health non-governmental organisations from each country was developed with the support of the Climate and Health Alliance, Health Care Without Harm, and the Public Health Association of Australia. It was conducted during August and September 2015 by WFPHA with support from the World Medical Association and its Young Doctors Network.
National public health associations, medical associations, and other health professional organisations responded, providing information on the actions of 35 governments (15 developed and 20 developing nations).
The respondent countries are spread across six continents and include, USA, Canada, Brazil, Spain, China, Australia, Japan and a number of EU countries.
The survey revealed a lack of climate-health preparedness, with more than half of respondent countries (51 per cent) having no national plan to protect their citizens from the health impacts of climate change in their countries. Twelve countries (35 per cent) have not yet developed policies for long-term climate change and its impact on health and 13 countries (37 per cent) did not have any policies for public health adaptation.
The majority of respondent countries (77 per cent) have no comprehensive identification of health risks of climate change projections for their citizens and 66 per cent had done little towards identifying vulnerable populations and infrastructure, developing public health adaptation responses, assessing coping capacity or gaps in knowledge.
More than 40 per cent of the respondent countries had failed to involve the health sector in mitigation planning or invest in research on the health effects of climate change. The specifics of these responses provide insight into the lack of focus of national governments around the world on climate and health. While these findings represent only a small number of countries, it is likely that generally speaking those countries that responded have attempted to tackle climate. Thus, a much broader global picture may reveal the lack of focus on health in the Climate Change Action Plans (CCAPs) to be more widespread.
Some positive examples bucking the trend include Taiwan and Lithuania, reporting comprehensive climate change action plans with both mitigation and adaptation strategies, along with climate-health risk surveillance, and early warning systems for extreme weather health risks. Others fared less well, including some less developed and climate-vulnerable countries, with little attention reportedly paid to the health risks of climate change, nor a national climate change response, despite facing significant climate-health threats.
These preliminary findings strongly emphasise the need for national governments to strengthen their policy planning efforts to increase the focus on health risks of climate change. More importantly, the study highlights the need for international leadership from COP21 participants, to ensure that the health impacts of climate change are recognised by national governments as a key threat to their citizens’ health requiring immediate planning and action to prevent the catastrophic projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the WHO.
- The development of national CCAPs that recognise and respond to climate change health risks as a mandatory element of international climate agreements;
- For all nations to develop national climate and health strategies as a core element of their national CCAP; For all national CCAPs to include strategies for mitigation, with a particular emphasis on transitioning away from fossil fuels;
- For health and medical professional associations to make it a priority to raise the awareness of the multiple public health risks from climate change and opportunities for improved health from climate action;
- For a collaborative information sharing platform and decision support tools be established to enable nations to access knowledge and share experience from leading countries on climate and health responses.