Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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9.13 Research and Information Needs, including Monitoring

Research on the health impacts of global climate change should be conducted within an international network of scientists. Climatic-environmental changes will vary by geographic location, and local populations vary in their vulnerability to such changes. Therefore, the patterns of health gains and losses will be very context-dependent. This type of research requires maximum exchange of information and cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques among scientists, agencies, and institutes. In particular, forecasting the likely health outcomes of exposure to future climate-environmental scenarios requires development of predictive models that can integrate across disparate systems. This will require an interdisciplinary approach. There is an urgent need to focus research efforts more sharply. Particular tasks include:

  • Epidemiological studies of ongoing climatic variability and trends in relation to health
  • Development of mathematical models to forecast likely health outcomes in relation to projected climatic/ environmental changes, accounting for concurrent social and economic circumstances and their projected changes
  • Development of monitoring methods and systems to detect early evidence of health-related changes and further inform epidemiological and predictive modeling studies.

Monitoring of the potential impacts of climate change on health is important for several reasons (Campbell-Lendrum et al., 2000; Kovats and Martens, 2000):

  • Early detection of the health impacts of climate change
  • Improved analysis of relationships between climate and health
  • Validation of predictive models
  • Increased understanding of vulnerability
  • Assessment of effectiveness of adaptation strategies.

Epidemiological data are necessary to inform policymakers about the magnitude of actual or potential impacts of climate change. Most current infection surveillance systems have been designed to detect particular causes, such as food-borne disease, and individual risk factors, such as overseas travel. Monitoring of climate change requires a more comprehensive approach to infection etiology, examining the possible influence of climate on the environmental sources of pathogens and on human behavior (WHO-ECEH, 1998a,b). Another challenge for climate study is the size of data sets required. Although trends in any one country will be a starting point, improved coordination of infection data across regions will be needed. Epidemiological data also would help to determine the requirements for and the effectiveness of preventive actions.

Bioindicators of health risk also need to be developed, to detect early or unanticipated health impacts of climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion. For example, mapping and monitoring of vector species could be strengthened to detect early changes in their distribution associated with climate change (Campbell-Lendrum et al., 2000). The effect of extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods need to be included in enhanced surveillance for assessment of future impacts.

Populations vary in their vulnerability to health impacts and in the resources available for adaptive responses (McMichael et al., 2000b). These differences in vulnerability, between and within populations, reflect a wide range of demographic, cultural, political, socioeconomic, and technological circumstances. In the future, national impact assessments should describe and identify means by which the vulnerability of populations and subgroups could be reduced and select priorities for monitoring.

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