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The Public Health Consequences of Climate Change
RFF Feature
July 1, 2009

Public Health and Climate ChangeAs the world warms, will human populations suffer from increased illness and other health liabilities? In a new RFF Report, "Adapting to Climate Change: Public Health," Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, of the University of Southern California Institute for Global Health, assesses how nations will deal with potential threats—from heat waves to infections disease epidemics—that could arise as climate changes occur in coming decades.

"Across the public health community," Samet finds, "all concur with the need for primary prevention – that is, slowing climate change as quickly as possible." At the same time, adaptation policies will necessarily "reflect the long time frame for action," he notes, but other steps should be taken without delay. For example: "Places at risk for heat events should have warning systems in place, along with programs to reduce the consequences of thermal stress."

The report is one in a series issued as part of a major RFF project on domestic adaptation policy.

Excerpts from the Report

"The methods for addressing the health consequences of climate change, as evident in this review, are those of public health and disease control generally. The unique aspect of climate change is its upstream driver. The consequences of climate change for health range from being quite specific (e.g., heat waves) to general (e.g., increased exposure to air pollution) and from being acute in nature (e.g., infectious disease outbreaks) to longer term (e.g., changes in allergic diseases associated with shifts in aeroallergens). For some of the health consequences of climate change, such as emerging infections and heat waves, adaptation will take place through the routine functioning of effective public health systems, if in place. Some, such as allergic diseases, will be managed through routine medical care. And some, including increased emissions of air pollution, will be addressed through regulatory mechanisms."   RFF Report
Adapting to Climate Change: Public Health

"Recognition and quantification of the health consequences of climate change will be difficult, given their lack of specificity. Risk assessment methods, including burden of disease estimation, will remain central as a tool for estimating the need for implementation of adaptive strategies and for quantifying their benefits." 

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