News & Media Opinion Pieces Climate Change and Health: Policy Priorities and Perspectives

Climate Change and Health: Policy Priorities and Perspectives

Anthony J McMichael, Presented to the Global Health Security Centre, at Chatham House (London). December 2011

  • The risks to population health and survival, and to social stability, from climate change are greater than have been generally appreciated.

  • Further climatic influences are likely to cause direct and indirect adverse effects, including on mental health. These impacts will threaten the pursuit of health gains in lower-income regions. Population health may be further threatened by tensions, displacement and conflict.

  • Global health and development strategies must address the health risks of human-induced climate change as well as promote low-carbon strategies that improve health.

  • Current economic estimates heavily underestimate the risks that poor health poses to labour and capital.

  • The cost of expanded emergency services, healthcare facilities, extended surveillance and prevention programmes, resettling displaced groups and falls in workforce productivity will grow, impeding other social and economic goals.

  • Mitigation offers ‘win-win’ opportunities for enhancing population health. Meanwhile, near-term and longer-term adaptation strategies are needed to lessen the adverse health impacts of climate change.

Human-induced climate change poses great and growing risks to human social and biological wellbeing. The impacts will affect future levels of population health, patterns of disease and death, attempts to reduce the rich-poor health gap, social stability and geopolitical security. In many respects, the ‘human dimension’ of climate change is broader and more far-reaching than has been generally recognised in public and policy discourse. This failure to properly consider, recognise or acknowledge the medium- to long term threat to human societies limits both our vision of the future and our motivation to take immediate action to curb this global environmental challenge.
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Professor Tony (A.J.) McMichael, AO, FTSE, (US) NAS, is Professor of Population Health at The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, where he heads the research program on Environment, Climate and Health. He was, from 1994 until 2001, Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His research interests over four decades have spanned occupational diseases, dietary influences on chronic diseases, environmental epidemiology, social epidemiological research and, more recently, the population health consequences of global environmental changes. During 1993-2001 he led the assessment of health impacts for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He is a Science Advisor to the Australian Government’s Climate Commission, and to the Global Health Security Centre, at Chatham House (London). His most recent book, “Human Frontiers, Environments and Disease: Past Patterns, Uncertain Futures”, was published in 2001 by Cambridge University Press
Tony McMichael is also a long standing member of DEA Scientific Committee