Climate change poses not only environmental and development issues, but it also represents a big threat to human health, and in the public mind this impact gives rise to the greatest concern. Health assessment in BC3 focuses on these threats, and analyses as well the social, economic and behavioral factors that influence vulnerability of people, communities and social systems. This social dimension is however not fully integrated in the decision policy yet, and BC3 research line on health attempts to contribute in filling this gap.
Climate affects health through direct and indirect pathways. First, the expected increases in temperature will have a direct impact on both the incidence and the geographic distribution of climate-sensitive health outcomes (such as those related to heat waves, floods and infectious patterns).
Second, human health will also be impacted indirectly by increased pressure via other pathways affecting natural and socio-economic systems (such as air pollution, ecosystem services, agriculture and food, water). On all these pathways there are still considerable uncertainties. Yet the need for policy action is strong, in the form of capacity building, drawing up appropriate adaptation plans, and ensuring that health is appropriately considered in decision making related to other sectors, such as energy, transportation and agriculture.
In addition to the above, another important link between climate policy and health is in the area of co-benefits. Measures taken to reduce emissions of GHGs (e.g. sustainable policies on household energy, agriculture, transport) can often also reduce local pollutants such as particulate matter that have a detrimental effect on the health of the population. This means that the effective cost of a shift to sources of energy that have low GHG emissions is lower than would be the case of such benefits were not taken into account. At the same time, these benefits can provide strong political motivation.
Within BC3, ongoing work on health and climate change has covered the above areas and will continue to do so. More specifically, in the next year BC3 plans to continue along four main research areas in the health context. The first area deals with the assessment of health impacts and costs/benefits of adaptation and mitigation strategies. The objective is to assess direct and indirect impacts of climate change on health, taking into account, when possible, both the physical and the economic impacts, for selected health outcomes (e.g. cardiovascular and respiratory diseases due to heat waves, mortality and severe injuries, physical and mental, due to extreme weather events, vector-borne diseases such as malaria, water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition); to assess adaptation strategies, preventive and reactive, to reduce the health impacts and related risks; to assess the health co-benefits of GHG mitigation strategies.
A second area will address health vulnerability and adaptive capacity in order to develop a Health Vulnerability Indicator which can help to identify population groups and regions at higher risks. In this context, BC3 is collaborating with TERI Institute in New Delhi (India) which ensures access to local/national data and cooperation with key stakeholders in the health care system in India. The objective is to develop a methodological framework which can be applicable to different geographical contexts, including in the Basque Country.
A third area will address the link between human health and ecosystems through the expected impacts on food and water security which will affect crops and livestock biodiversity.
Finally, the fourth area will explore the application of acquired knowledge to national and local contexts, including the Basque Country. Additional emphasis will be put on connecting the research outcomes to policy analysis and decision-makers through bottom-up approaches with stakeholder participation models developed along the research process. The health research line can be seen as a seed area which is developing along with related research lines such as energy and mitigation strategies, natural resources and ecosystem services. We are working with some of the leading research groups in the world on these issues in well-defined areas that address some important questions. This will be the basis of our program for the next four years.
Currently the team is composed by environmental economists and scientists, with expertise in health economics, health impact assessment, environmental impact assessment, environmental fate analysis, and uncertainty analysis.