Climate change is anticipated to have wide-ranging consequences for human population
health. Public health depends particularly on sufficiency of food, safe drinking
water, secure community settlement and family shelter, and the environmental
and social control of various infectious diseases. These health determinants
can be affected by climate. Technological actions taken to reduce greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions or to reduce the health (or other) impacts of climate change
can themselves affect population health. Therefore, the evaluation and full-cost
accounting of technologies introduced to mitigate climate change must include
an assessment of the health impacts of those technologies.
The uncertainty about future local and regional health impacts of climate change
means that intervention strategies that also produce current public health benefit
are more acceptable. For example, reductions in fossil fuel combustion and changes
in transport policy have the potential to achieve prompt reductions in mortality
and morbidity. Since these "secondary" health benefits of mitigation
occur primarily within local populations, Clean Development Mechanism projects
that entail bilateral investment in GHG mitigation strategies can achieve immediate
and substantial health gains in low-income countries.
A population's vulnerability to adverse health impacts of climate change is
usually amplified by socio-economic deprivation. Social policies that reduce
socio-economic and environmental vulnerability will therefore mitigate the effects
of climate change. Maintaining and strengthening national public health infrastructure
is therefore fundamental to effective adaptation to climate change. Adaptation
strategies should be undertaken principally via public agencies. To facilitate
the process, the public policies and institutional arrangements that currently
impede adaptation to environmental conditions should be identified.
Both the existing and the future-potential environmental health problems share
many underlying causes, relating to poverty, inequality and social and economic
practices. Reducing levels of resource consumption in Annex I countries and
slowing down population growth in other countries will help to mitigate greenhouse
gas emissions and their consequent climate-mediated health impacts, while also
bringing early public health benefits. The protection and improvement of population
health must be recognised as a central goal of environmentally sustainable development.