In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Climate Change: Institutional Response

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reviews
  • In-Depth Reviews of Relevant Disciplines
  • Textbooks and Training Materials
  • Journals
  • Bibliographies
  • Global Quasi-autonomous Nonprofit Organizations
  • Nongovernmental Organizations
  • Policy-Specific Resources
  • Sustainable Development

Public Health Climate Change: Institutional Response
Cindy Parker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0138


For people to be healthy, they require clean air, sufficient quantities of clean water, fertile soil to grow nutritious food, functional social networks and societal support structures, adequate raw materials to meet basic needs, and a stable and relatively predictable climate. If any one of these fundamental requirements is not met, the individual or community’s health and well-being suffer as a result. Climate change is likely to threaten every one of these requirements, resulting in negative health impacts. Although not likely to be the sole cause of specific diseases, climate change will act as a risk amplifier, particularly affecting the social determinants of health. An institution is an organization of significance in a society or culture. Humans often look to their institutions for cues of the significance of an issue and direction for what they should do. Despite the tremendous threat to health and well-being from climate change, public health and health-care institutions in general have been slow to address the global threat in any systematic or unified way. What climate change–related attention has come from these institutions has been primarily on helping societies adapt to a changing climate; assisting the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to stabilize the climate (mitigation) has been much less evident. In health prevention language, mitigation would be primary prevention, preventing what could cause harm from happening in the first place. Secondary prevention, reducing the harm that is happening or restoring functionality from what has happened, is adaptation. Both mitigation and adaptation are increasingly seen as a necessary role of public health professionals and institutions to protect the public from myriad health impacts of an unstable climate. Moreover, public health professionals and researchers are realizing the need to work cooperatively with practitioners and researchers of other disciplines to accomplish this monumental task. Urban planners and architects, disaster planners and responders, water managers, agricultural, land use, and nutrition professionals, energy experts, business and industry, and those concerned with global security are all working on issues relevant to helping people adapt to a changing climate and to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent more severe impacts. Complicating things further, the institutional response will be very different at different scales and locales. An in-depth look into what is occurring in every locale is beyond the scope of this bibliography, but it will include some examples of the public health response from different regions of the world.

General Overviews

The sources listed in this section primarily include editorials and commentary from the most influential and forward thinkers, pushing public health to go beyond the more traditional confines of the field. This section is intended to set the stage for the following sections that delve more deeply into the specifics of the public health response to climate change. Chan 2009, authored by the Director-General of the World Health Organization, makes a strong statement that public health should play a major role in climate change policymaking. Frumkin, et al. 2008 was the earliest to formally recommend what the public health response to climate change should be. Haines, et al. 2009 provides an overview of a series of papers in The Lancet that demonstrate a critical part of the public health response to climate change, that of emphasizing the co-benefits of mitigation strategies to improving health. Ganten, et al. 2010 and Roberts and Stott 2010 are emblematic of attempts to rally health professionals behind this approach. Galvão, et al. 2009 introduces the interrelated nature of public health, social determinants of health, and sustainable development. Kjellstrom and McMichael 2013 recalls public health attention to the necessity of stabilizing the climate and the limitations of focusing only on adapting to a changing climate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2013) summarizes the most recent scientific consensus on the physical basis of climate change.

  • Chan, Margaret. 2009. Cutting carbon, improving health. The Lancet 374:1870–1871.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61993-0

    A call to action issued by Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, encourages the health community to speak out in favor of effective and fair mitigation measures as a means of protecting health and hastening advancement toward the Millennium Development Goals.

  • Frumkin, Howard, Jeremy Hess, George Luber, Josephine Malilay, and Michael McGeehin. 2008. Climate change: The public health response. American Journal of Public Health 98:435–445.

    DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.119362

    Uses existing public health frameworks, such as the prevention paradigm, the precautionary principle, and risk management, to explain why the 10 Essential Services of Public Health provides an ideal charter for the public health approach to climate change.

  • Galvão, Luiz Augusto C., Sally Edwards, Carlos Corvalan, Kira Fortune, and Marco Akerman. 2009. Climate change and social determinants of health: Two interlinked agendas. Global Health Promotion Supplement 1:81–84.

    DOI: 10.1177/1757975909103761

    Using theoretical paradigms and pragmatic examples, explains why climate change, social determinants of health, and sustainable development are thoroughly intertwined.

  • Ganten, Detley, Andy Haines, and Robert Souhami. 2010. Health co-benefits of policies to tackle climate change. The Lancet 376:1802–1804.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62139-3

    Discusses a statement by the InterAcademy Medical Panel, a global network of medical academies, underscoring the threat to health from climate change and highlighting the importance of the co-benefits to health from climate mitigation policy. The authors make a strong case for collaboration with other relevant disciplines and provide examples.

  • Haines, Andy, Anthony J. McMichael, Kirk R. Smith, et al. 2009. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: Overview and implications for policy makers. The Lancet 374:2104–2114.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61759-1

    Provides an overview of a series of papers in The Lancet (reviewed in Oxford Bibliography article Climate Change and Human Health) that quantify the co-benefits to health of various climate mitigation strategies in four domains: household energy, transport, food and agriculture, and electricity generation. Also discusses the importance of these policies to international development.

  • IPCC. 2013. Summary for Policymakers. In Climate change 2013: The physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Edited by T. F. Stocker, D. Qin, G. -K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex, and P. M. Midgley. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York.

    The summary for policymakers is written for a lay audience with key points marked, the level of certainty of the statement made plain, and helpful graphics. This is the first part of the fifth assessment report, representing consensus of more than 800 expert authors from eighty-five countries.

  • Kjellstrom, Tord, and Anthony J. McMichael. 2013. Climate change threats to population health and well-being: The imperative of protective solutions that will last. Global Health Action 6.

    The well-respected authors make the strong case that adaptation alone will not protect the public’s health and well-being; climate mitigation—reducing greenhouse gas emissions—is required. They also highlight the projected differential effects to poor people in low- and middle-income countries compared to those of means.

  • Roberts, Ian, and Robin Stott. 2010. Doctors and climate change. The Lancet 376:1801–1802.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62106-X

    Written on the eve of the 2010 global climate negotiations in Mexico, the authors link the high prevalence of obesity in Mexico to fossil fuels, also the primary cause of climate change, and co-benefits to health and the planet of reducing fossil fuel use. Both authors are leaders of the Climate and Health Council, listed under Nongovernmental Organizations.

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