17 May 2009: The World Health Organization (WHO) launched a report on climate change and health research during the meeting of Commonwealth Health Ministers, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland. The Chair of the report was Tony McMichael. Colin Butler was a contributor.
The report was drafted in response to a World Health Assembly resolution on climate change and health adopted by the 193 member States of WHO in May 2008. The resolution called on, inter alia, the WHO to work with external partners to support applied research in this field, from assessment of climatic risks to health, to estimating the health benefits of mitigation measures and the costs of adaptation.
In response to this request, WHO coordinated a global e-consultation and meeting of over 70 leading researchers, practitioners, representatives of the UN and other agencies, and donors. The resulting report, titled “Protecting Health from Climate Change: Global research priorities,” formulates a series of recommendations on the most important directions for future work in this field, and how this should be integrated with related areas of public health and climate research.
Climate change is now recognized as one of the defining challenges of the 21st century, and protecting health from its impacts is an emerging priority for the public health community. Further, the potential range and magnitude of associated health risks should be central to the rationale for actions to mitigate the occurrence of climate change. Research in this field is increasing, but it is still comparatively weak in relation to the complexity of the issue and the magnitude of the health risks that may arise from inadequate or inappropriate responses. In addition, to date, research has mainly concentrated on the identification, characterization and quantification of the linkages between climate and health, with less focus on applied research to lessen associated health risks.
National governments are now committing to undertake evidence-based actions to protect health from climate change. In May 2008, the 193 Member States that constitute the World Health Assembly (WHA) passed a resolution calling for a stronger commitment from Member States and the World Health Organization (WHO) to protect health from climate change. In particular, the resolution called on WHO to work with other agencies to identify research requirements and pilot projects that should be supported by the international community on a series of practical themes, with the aim of designing effective actions.