Climate Change and Health

An Overview of Climate Change

The Earth’s climate in not static, it has always varied naturally, slowly cycling between ice ages and inter-glacial periods as a result of natural causes. Nowadays, the term “climate change” is used in relation to the future expected climate change and the change in climate over the last few centuries. During this time, global temperature has risen much more rapidly than in previous cycles. The rapid change is mostly attributable to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in recent years; largely a result of the burning of greater quantities of fossil fuels, deforestation and changes in farming methods. The scientific consensus is that global temperature will continue to rise throughout the twenty first century; however the extent of the increase depends on the future emissions of greenhouse gases.

The effects of climate change are very broad and include rising sea levels, increased extreme weather events, changes in food and water availability, changes in biodiversity and effects on health.

Effects on Health

Climate change is capable of influencing the health of the population in many different ways, both mentally and physically. Worldwide, one of the largest health effects is likely to be malnutrition, followed closely by a rise in the number of people affected by malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and natural disasters. The effects in the UK are likely to show a different pattern, with a change in the seasonal distribution of deaths likely to have the largest impact. Increases in food and water borne diseases can also be expected along with higher skin cancer incidence. A rise in the number of floods and heatwaves could increase physical and mental stress amongst the population.

The Effects of Climate Change on Health in the West Midlands

Between October 2009 and March 2010 a Defra funded report was put together with the intent on providing in depth information of the extent of climate change in the West Midlands and the effects that climate change could have on the Region’s health up until the 2080s. The document includes an investigation into:

  • The direct effects of temperature on health
  • Climate change, air pollution, respiratory diseases and allergens
  • Climate change, food, water and vector borne diseases
  • Climate change, indoor environments and health
  • Climate change, ultra-violet radiation and health
  • Impacts of extreme weather events on health
  • Climate change and health inequalities
  • Recommendations for adaptation strategies

The summary report and the technical report can be accessed below:

Other Publications and Further Information

Climate Change and Health

Environment and Climate Change

  • DECC - Department of Energy and Climate Change
    The website belonging to the UK government department responsible for bringing together energy and climate change policy
  • Environment Agency
    The climate change page belonging to the Environment Agency explains climate change and gives an overview of the impacts and the importance of tackling the issue.
  • Natural England
    Natural England is the UK government’s advisor on the natural environment. The climate change webpage contains key monitoring and research projects being carried out to ensure that the natural environment is resilient in the face of climate change.
  • UKCIP – The UK Climate Impacts Programme
    Provides help for organisations in assessing how climate change will affect their service
  • UKCP09 – The UK Climate Projections 2009
    A service provided by the UK Met Office and UKCIP to help decision-makers take account of climate change and carry out tailored climate change projections
  • WHO - World Health Organization
    WHO is the directing and organising authority for health within the United Nations; this page provides information on climate change and health from across the globe
Health and Sustainable Development

  • The NHS Sustainable Development Unit
    The NHS SDU for England is a small unit of seven people in Cambridge who provide leadership, support and policy input to ensure the NHS in England is the leading public sector organisation in promoting sustainable development and mitigating climate change
  • Physical Environment
    Other relevant links are also available via our Physical Environment topic page.