Action 5: Understanding and preventing the health impacts of climate change

We are studying the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on human health. This creates the knowledge base for concrete precautionary and preventive measures.

Where do we stand?

The Covid-19 pandemic emphasises how dependent humans are on environmental conditions and how quickly local developments can become global challenges. The interdependencies and correlations between health, climate change, and environmental degradation and pollution are not yet well understood. Climate change influences, for instance, the diversity and distribution of species and thus the occurrence of pathogens and infectious diseases, such as those transmitted by mosquitoes. As an example, the first meningitis in humans caused by the mosquito-borne West Nile virus occurred in Germany in 2019. In addition to such communicable diseases, the population in Germany is at risk of extreme weather events caused by climate change, especially heat extremes. The connection between extreme heat and higher mortality is medically proven. For example, the risk of heart attack increases with prolonged heat. In the extreme summer of 2018, it is estimated that 740 people died in Berlin alone as a result of the extreme heat stress. In addition to an increase in mortality, an increase in illnesses and a decline in labour productivity is to be expected during such heat waves, so that heat events are also associated with economic losses. In addition, little is known about the overall effects of the creeping long-term changes caused by climate change on human health.

What are the research needs?

Protecting human health is an important part of our adaptation to climate change. The continuously evolving adaptation action plan, entitled the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change, highlights the topic of health as being under-represented as well as the need for research across fields of action. This is where we come in: We will use interdisciplinary research approaches to identify correlations between climate and environmental changes and human health and develop application-oriented adaptation strategies.

This will help to build sound and practical knowledge, including knowledge on how extreme weather and long-term, creeping temperature changes affect our health and on the interdependencies between climatic and other adverse effects on our environment that are relevant to human health. The main objective is to translate this knowledge into concrete precautionary and protective measures for the areas and sectors concerned and to build up competence in the health sector with regard to climate adaptation.

Implementation steps and milestones

  • We will implement new funding measures to address different aspects of the interaction between climate change, environmental change and health. This will allow interdisciplinary research into the relationships and causal chains.
  • From 2021, we will support young scientists who pursue particularly innovative approaches at the interface between climate and health research. By 2025, we will provide relevant options for action for practitioners and the public.
  • As part of the BMBF Research Initiative for the Conservation of Biodiversity, we will also focus on the climate-induced increase in animal species in Germany that carry infectious diseases or can otherwise endanger human health.
  • To act with foresight and transcending national borders to minimise the risks in the area of health protection in times of climate change, we will expand cooperation at the national and European level by 2025 – with other federal ministries, with European partner countries and with international partners, for example by participating in joint EU research initiatives.

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