Many of the health impacts of climate act through societal or economic factors, or through various biological agents. There are some health impacts, however, that can be directly attributed to the climate itself. These include heat-related and cold-related mortality and morbidity, death and injury from river, flash, and coastal floods, and death and injury from wildfires. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2012) concluded:
In addition, the strong relationship between bushfire activity and rainfall and temperature, especially in southern Australia, suggests the possibility of an increase in bushfire risk.
These projected changes imply an intensification of the underlying risk of mortality and morbidity. However, actual changes in the health impact will depend on changes in exposure or vulnerability of populations exposed to the various threats, in addition to the threats themselves. Actions to reduce either the vulnerability or exposure of populations to these threats have included developing of early warning systems including heat alert systems, flood forecasts, and bushfire alerts, as well as increased precautionary burns, improved fire-fighting capacity, and more rigorous building codes in threatened areas. Some of these actions can have unintended consequences for health, e.g. precautionary burns leading to respiratory illness. Some climate change mitigation strategies (e.g. reducing dependence on fossil fuels) may increase vulnerability to climate extremes (if energy reliability decreases).
Questions to get you thinking
IPCC, 2012. Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation. Cambridge University Press, 582pp.
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