Climate change confronts the Netherlands with many health risks

Maastricht University, Wageningen University
03-JUL-2019 - Climate change affects our health. The consequences that climate change can have on our health, for instance heat stress, allergies, diseases, air quality and UV-radiation, have hitherto never been documented this extensively: as in the ‘Knowledge Agenda Climate Change and Health’. Over 100 experts have given input to this agenda, that is intended to produce a multi-annual research programme.
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Dutch people are more and more confronted with possible health risks related to climate change: heat waves that lead to extra mortality, hay fever complaints in winter, tiger mosquitoes that live closer and closer to the Netherlands, increasing nuisance by oak processionary caterpillars, bad water quality caused by over-exposed sewer systems that break down after heavy showers plus an increasing number of skin cancer cases caused by UV-radiation. These are just some examples. The degree in which these health effects occur, is not the same to everybody in each situation.

Greening of cities: chances and risks relating to health

The consequences that climate change and climate measures are having to the state of public health in the Netherlands, may often not be detectable very easily or are not given much attention. Up-to-date knowledge about climate risks is required, as a basis for proper decision-making on measures to be taken. Measures for climate mitigation (preventing the occurrence of climate change) in the Dutch Climate Agreement are mainly aimed at reducing CO2-emissions and not at the possible side-effects on public health. Measures for climate adaptation (adjusting to climate change) offer good opportunities to foster health, but also carry risks. For example, more ticks might occur in places with more green planted, leading to more tick-related infectious diseases. The Netherlands can be prepared for this, by jointly developing knowledge.

Four priorities

The RIVM (=National Institute for Public Health and the Environment), Maastricht University and Wageningen University & Research have jointly prepared a so-called Knowledge Agenda, commissioned by ZonMW (=The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development). This Knowledge Agenda gives an overview of current knowledge about the health effects of climate change and also more insight into which knowledge Dutch society needs, to limit health risks of climate change and connected measures. Over one hundred experts have delivered input for this.

The Knowledge Agenda on Climate Change and Health raises the point to use an integral approach in climate research, by collaboration between the various policy sectors and the practical field. The following activities should be prioritized in order to reach a possible future research programme on climate and health:

  1. Analyse the current and future health risks of climate change in connection with one another.
  2. Develop measures to tackle current and future health effects of climate change. Determine the most effective mix of measures to support health and minimize climate risks and those measures that may be taken in the short run.
  3. Develop a system to recognise health effects of climate change in a timely fashion and to evaluate effects of climate and health measures.
  4. Include health, as standard practice, in evaluations of climate measures (for example in the framework of the Dutch National Adaptation Strategy and Climate Act), in order to prevent unwanted side-effects on health and to boost positive side-effects.

Immediate action

More time is needed to find the answers to all research questions that have been identified. The Knowledge Agenda itself actually offers already a detailed overview of the challenges we are facing and of all sorts of directions with which to start solving these right away. More knowledge development remains, however, necessary to give optimum support to this process now and in the future. This Knowledge Agenda also provides a possibly multi-annual ZonMW research programme with an important foundation in the area of climate change and health. The results of the research programme can lead to specific climate measures that will (simultaneously) lead to improved public health.

More information

Text: Wageningen University, RIVM, Maastricht University, ZonMw
Photos: Ed Stikvoort, Saxifraga (leadphoto: spreading pellitory)

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