The paper, “Public health and climate change” from the UK Journal of Public Health presents how the local authorities and public health is preparing for the health impacts of climate change.
To gather data, the study reviewed public documents from South West England’s local authorities on climate change adaptation strategies and action plans. They conducted a semi-structured interview with public health consultants and sustainability officers in the same area. Part of the local government’s mandate is to plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change, termed as ‘adaptation’ in the study.
Nine out of the 13 upper-tier local authorities reviewed in the study have climate change adaptation strategies and actions plans. Potential health impacts from climate change were identified, as well as their general adaptation actions.
Some of the climate-related health impacts include those linked with extreme temperatures – heat and cold, flooding, skin cancer or exposure to ultraviolet light, vector, food and water-borne diseases among many others.
While general adaptation actions involve raising awareness, providing strategic leaders, resilience and emergency planning, etc.
Some key findings of the study:
- Roles of public health in the field of climate change adaptation varies and climate-related health risks are not necessarily well-realized within local government;
- Adaptation and strategies also vary among local authorities for example in their emergency planning function and risk management;
- Interview participants expressed financial constraint and lack of political leadership, and the absence of public awareness on the health impacts of climate change;
- the importance of effective communication;
- the need for additional resources.
The study has also cited previous research papers affirming that the local authorities have adaptation plans. A survey of 90 local authorities found that 62% have it in place. It also showed that staff are equipped with enough information but had limited capacity due to budget constraints and reduced staffing.
They also found out that climate change is an important public health risk but there is a gap between the national research and local needs; with survey participants highlighting the need for policy to improve understanding of health impacts.
The paper has come up with recommendations for the national government and local authorities and some guide questions for future research.
The changing climate does not only impact our infrastructure, agriculture, food production, oceans and ecosystems but also our health.
Climate change is a serious phenomenon as it has detrimental effects on our health and affects everything in our planet and life as we know it whether through a gradual process like temperature increase and sea-level rise or sudden impacts like heatwaves and severe storms.
The study provides a model for other local governments and authorities especially in the health sectors to prepare and adapt for health impacts related to climate change.