4 May 2012

Climate Change Health Risk Assessment

I'm at a workshop on climate change risk assessment and environmental interventions at the NSW Ministry of Health this morning. It's particularly focused on a climate change health risk assessment that was conducted in the UK and lessons for Australia.

I'll update this post throughout the morning.
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UK Climate Change Risk Assessment
Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis gave an overview of the UK's climate change risk assessment. Some of this headline issues include:


  • Increases in flooding, difficulties with water supply, heat effects and heatwaves, and biodiversity impacts and changes to ecosystem services.

  • Significant increase in deaths due to heat, particularly by 2080s.

  • The main opportunity in the UK is a reduction in cold-related deaths and potentially some scope to increase outdoor physical activity.

  • There's quiet a bit of variation in the level of confidence we can have in predicting impacts.

  • The risks are not homogenous even within a setting with more limited climatic range like the UK. Different regions face different challenges.

  • The public health repsonse to the CCRA included a heat wave response plan and health advice for flooding.

  • Air pollution and extreme weather events are well characterised risks. Many other impacts, especially financial and social ones are poorly understood, as are climate tipping points.

  • Uncertainty is a critical issue not only in predicting impacts but also in trying to understand the the effectiveness of adaptation methods.

So what does this mean for health and health services?

  • What major risks are we failing to take into account? What presumptions are being made? For example work in Hong Kong has found that rates of MI increased during cold periods, which wasn't anticipated.

  • In Australia we lack national policy coordination on climate change, unlike the UK.

  • There's a genuine risk in linking everything to climate change, e.g. extreme weather events, as these can be misleading.