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Climate Change and Health

Climate change has been described by the Lancet as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” The World Health Organization notes that, “Human health is a central concern in climate change,” and that “beyond economic and social impacts, the well-being of the human population and the capacity of the human race to survive are at stake.”

Climate change can contribute to adverse outcomes such as:

  • Nutrition insecurity and consequent developmental disorders
  • Injuries and deaths resulting from extreme weather events
  • Increases in respiratory disease as a result of poorer air quality
  • Increases in vectorborne, foodborne and waterborne diseases

Public health professionals and partners in other sectors have a responsibility to protect people from the immediate harm of climate change and to prevent the problem from getting worse. The good news is that there are strategies to address climate change that also have immediate health benefi ts.

The Center for Climate Change & Health

The Public Health Institute (PHI) is a non-profit organization with over four decades of experience in improving the health, nutrition, well-being and quality of life for people in California, across the United States and around the world. PHI has a history of success in building local capacity, strengthening health systems, and training public health leaders and health advocates. PHI believes that health is a fundamental human right and that just societies ensure equitable health outcomes for everyone.

PHI’s Center for Climate Change & Health contributes to building healthy and climate-resilient communities that have the right tools to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The Center engages local leaders, scientists, policymakers, health care providers and civil society in mainstreaming the protection of health across a wide range of policies and sectors. It promotes strategies that effectively address the impacts of climate change on health, while at the same time generating co-benefits from adaptation and mitigation in the health, agriculture, transport, housing and energy sectors.

By helping communities take simple steps to be prepared today and lower their risks tomorrow, the Center plays a key role in assuring that people live longer, healthier lives.

Strategic Objectives

  • Promote health equity and climate justice
  • Develop capacity building and leadership programs that address climate and health
  • Promote co-benefits from climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies across multiple sectors
  • Advocate for policy change at the local, state, national and international levels
  • Develop evidence-based training 
  • Provide forums for diverse sectors to engage, connect and share information

Climate Change and Health at the Public Health Institute

Respiratory Health. Climate change worsens air quality, yet many climate strategies reduce other air pollutants as well. In California, PHI has helped pass diesel emissions regulations that are projected to prevent 150,000 cases of asthma over 15 years. It has assessed the health impact of proposed cap and trade regulations, and been an active voice for health equity in the implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. PHI’s work to foster uptake of cleaner cookstove technologies is reducing black carbon emissions and helping to prevent the nearly 4 million premature deaths around the world each year, predominantly among women and children, caused by exposure to smoke from cooking fires and traditional stoves.

Heat. Climate change brings with it growing numbers of extreme heat days. Cooling stations and good planning can save lives during heat events, and cool roofs and urban parks reduce heat effects and offer places for physical activity and social connection. Tracking and surveillance are the first steps. PHI’s work on tracking heat vulnerability and heat-related illness and death in California and the U.S. provides the data to identify which areas and individuals are most vulnerable, and to formulate strategies to minimize heat impact. 

Nutrition and Physical Activity. Moving to sustainable agriculture and transportation systems can prevent malnutrition, obesity, and chronic disease while reducing greenhouse gases. Through its decades of work on nutrition and obesity prevention PHI has: promoted the importance of women’s empowerment to improving nutrition in the face of climate change; informed nutrition, farm and transportation policies; collaborated directly with farmers, small businesses and community members as well as at state and national levels on sustainable and equitable food systems; and worked to make communities more walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly. 

Engagement, Leadership and Capacity Building. With a powerful track record for engaging partners and building capacity to address public health issues, PHI is working to foster public health and health sector leadership on climate change. PHI convenes the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance and is developing tools to facilitate health and public health worker engagement. Globally, PHI partners with other leading health organizations to raise awareness of climate change impacts on non-communicable diseases, and to push for greater inclusion of health in international climate change negotiations.