Climate Change

Original Editor - Lucinda hampton

Top Contributors - Lucinda hampton and Angeliki Chorti  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Climate Change.jpeg

Climate change is described as a long-term change (natural or as a result of human interventions) in temperature and weather conditions in a region. [1] Earth’s climate has constantly been changing, even long before humans came into the picture. However, scientists have observed unusual changes recently. [2] Earth’s average temperature has been increasing much more quickly than expected over the past 150 years. [3] Extreme weather events and floods across the globe had devastating effects on human health and wellbeing putting further pressure to health services. [2] It is predicted that between 2030 and 2050, more than 250,000 people will die annually due to climate change; all of the above have led to climate change being reported as "the greatest threat to human health of the 21st century". [4]

Impacts on Health[edit | edit source]


Over the last half century, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by human activities have affected the globe in various ways.

  • Climate and weather variables pose threats to food and water security, and cause outbreaks of waterborne and vectorborne diseases. It is suggested that over half of human pathogenic diseases can be aggravated due to climate changes. [5]
  • The increased pressure on scarce resources triggers climate-related migration and conflicts. [6]
  • Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health e.g. clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. [7]
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure, mainly developing countries, will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond. [7]

Extreme Heat[edit | edit source]

Extreme heat is reported to have serious health-related consequences often leading to costly emergency depertment visits, hospitalisations and even premature death. [8]

  1. Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people e.g. in the heat wave of summer 2003 in Europe more than 70 000 excess deaths were recorded.
  2. High temperatures raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air exacerbating cardiovascular and respiratory disease. [9][10]
  3. Pollen and other aeroallergen levels rise in extreme heat, potentially triggering e.g. asthma which affects around 300 million people.[7]
  4. Hot weather is tied to occupational-related health risks leading to loss of productivity, and is also related to increased sports illnesses and injuries. [11]

Natural Disasters and Rainfall Changes[edit | edit source]


Natural disasters refer to all devastating meteorological (e.g. storms, floods), geophysical (e.g. earthquakes, volcanic activity, landslides) and climate (e.g. wildfires, drought) events. [12] Forty-five thousand people are killed annually as a result of natural disasters. [12] Although deaths from natural disasters are now far less than previous centuries, they still affect a large portion of the population, mainly developing countries where there is inadequate infrastructure to prevent and protect from such events. [12]

  1. Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, medical facilities and other essential services. More than half of the world's population lives within 60 km of the sea. People may be forced to move, which in turn heightens the risk of a range of health effects, from mental disorders to communicable diseases.
  2. Increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which kills over 500.000 children aged under 5 years every year. Decreased rainfall can also lead to famine and drought. By the late 21st century, climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of drought at regional and global scale.
  3. Rising temperatures and variable precipitation are likely to decrease the production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions, increasing the prevalence of malnutrition and undernutrition (currently cause 3.1 million deaths every year).
  4. Floods are also predicted to rise, these may: contaminate freshwater supplies; heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes; cause drownings and physical injuries; damage homes and disrupt the supply of medical and health services.

Infection Patterns[edit | edit source]

Infectious diseases are another facet of the problem associated with climate change. Shifts in geographical and temporal distribution, seasonality, and transmission intensity of communicable diseases have led to infection patterns changes that mostly affect the socially vulnerable. [13]

  • Climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold-blooded animals. [14]
  • Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range. [14]
  • The Aedes mosquito vector of dengue is also highly sensitive to climate conditions, and studies suggest that climate change is likely to continue to increase exposure to dengue.[7]

Physiotherapy implications[edit | edit source]

Climate change has been acknowledged as an important factor to human health by World Physiotherapy with calls on health professionals to take immediate actions on it. [15] The reasoning behind these calls is that physiotherapy, global health, and the environment can neither be thought nor practised in distinction from one another. For all healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists, there is a greater need for the inclusion of the sustainability into daily routines (for more information please have a look at the Sustainable Healthcare and Environmental Physiotherapy page).

The Environmental Physiotherapy Association (EPA) is an international network of physiotherapists that has been created to help physiotherapy contribute more meaningfully to planetary health and wellbeing. For an introduction to Environmental Physiotherapy, please click here.


The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) recognises environmental factors key role in people’s functioning. For example, it is suggested that cold, extreme heat and precipitation are all associated with changes in physical activity (PA).[16] Over time, global warming is poised to play a growing influence on PA levels.

  • An increase in physical inactivity is projected in locations that already experience high temperatures.
  • In the high temperature regions, further decreases in physical activity will have devastating implications for population health and should be accounted for in factoring the costs of climate change and the justification for mitigation efforts.
  • Rising temperatures may increase PA in locations affected by cold climate.[17].

Who is most affected?[edit | edit source]

Most systematic reviews of the health impacts of climate change suggest an association between climate change and the deterioration of health in multiple ways, generally in the direction that climate change is associated with adverse human health outcomes. [18]

  • Some places in the globe are more biodiverse than others, and these areas are more threatened by population growth, air pollution, and climate change. Biodiversity and Physiotherapy are two domains that affect each other, for more information, please click here.
  • Developing countries are particularly affected by the impacts of climate change. They are hit hardest because they are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of a hazard but have lower coping capacity. Eight out of the ten countries most affected by the quantified impacts of extreme weather events in 2019 belong to the low- to lower-middle income category. Half of them are Least Developed Countries. [19]
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure (mostly in developing countries) will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond (as we have seen in the COVID 19 pandemic).[7]
  • Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution. Health effects of climate change are unlikely to be distributed equally or randomly through populations. It will be important to mitigate the changing climate’s potential to exacerbate health inequities. [18]

Solutions[edit | edit source]


Climate change is already an urgent threat to millions of lives – but there are solutions.[20] Policies and individual choices have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce major health co-benefits. For example, cleaner energy systems, and promoting the safe use of public transportation and active movement, e.g. cycling or walking as alternatives to using private vehicles, could reduce carbon emissions, and cut the burden of household air pollution, which causes some 4.3 million deaths per year, and ambient air pollution, which causes about 3 million deaths every year. [7]

Sustainable living.jpeg

The following shows the main ways to stop climate change:

  1. Keep fossil fuels in the ground. Fossil fuels include coal, oil and gas. The more that are extracted and burned, the worse climate change will get. All countries need to move their economies away from fossil fuels as soon as possible.
  2. Invest in renewable energy.
  3. Switch to sustainable transport.
  4. Be environment friendly in houses and cities.
  5. Improve farming. Businesses and food retailers can improve farming practices and provide more plant-based products.
  6. Restore nature to absorb more carbon - photosynthesising plants draw down carbon dioxide as they grow, locking it away in soils.
  7. Protect big forests like the Amazon. Forests are crucial in the fight against climate change, and protecting them is an important climate solution.
  8. Protect the oceans. Oceans also absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps to keep our climate stable.
  9. Reduce human consumption. Our transport, fashion, food and other lifestyle choices all have different impacts on the climate. This is often by design – fashion and technology companies, for example, will release far more products than are realistically needed. But while reducing consumption of these products might be hard, it’s most certainly worth it. Reducing overall consumption in more wealthy countries can help put less strain on the planet.
  10. Reduce plastic. Plastic is made from oil, and the process of extracting, refining and turning oil into plastic (or even polyester, for clothing) is surprisingly carbon-intense. It doesn’t break down quickly in nature so a lot of plastic is burned, which contributes to emissions. [20]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. United Nations. Climate Action. What is climate change? Available online: [accessed 13-1-2023]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Romanello M., Di Napoli C., Drummond P., Green C., Kennard H., Lampard P., et al. The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels. Lancet. 2022 Nov 5;400(10363):1619-1654.
  3. Climate Kids NASA. Climate Change Available online: [accessed 7.9.2021]
  4. Watts N., Amann M., Arnell N., Ayeb-Karlsson S., Belesova K., Boykoff M., et al. The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate. Lancet 2019;394(10211):1836-78.
  5. McKenzie T., M. Gaw I. Climate change exacerbates almost two-thirds of pathogenic diseases affecting humans. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 791–792 (2022).
  6. WHO int Climate Change Available online: [accessed 7.9.2021]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 WHO Climate Change and Health. Available online: [accessed 7.9.2021]
  8. Rosenthal J. The Health Care Consequences of Extreme Heat Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg. CAP 2002; Sep 8.
  9. Wu H., Lu K., Fu J. A Time-Series Study for Effects of Ozone on Respiratory Mortality and Cardiovascular Mortality in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China. Front Public Health. 2022 Apr 26;10:864537.
  10. Le D., Nguyen H., Ngoc D., Do T., Ton N., Van Le T., et al. Air pollution and risk of respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations in a large city of the Mekong Delta Region. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2022 Dec;29(60):91165-91175.
  11. Ebi K., Capon A., Berry P., Broderick C. Hot weather and heat extremes: health risks. The Lancet 2021; 398 (10301): 698-708.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Ritchie H., Rosado P. Roser M. (Our World in Data) Natural Disasters. Available online: [accessed 17-1-2023]
  13. Grobusch L., Grobusch M. A hot topic at the environment-health nexus: investigating the impact of climate change on infectious diseases. Int J Infect Dis. 2022 Mar;116:7-9.
  14. 14.0 14.1 El-Sayed A. Kamel M. Climatic changes and their role in emergence and re-emergence of diseases. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 2020; 27:22336–22352.
  15. World Physiotherapy 2022. Climate change and heath. Policy statement - final draft. Available online: [accessed 15-1-2023]
  16. Ho J.Y., Lam H., Huang, Z., Liu S., Goggins W., Mo P., Chan E. Factors affecting outdoor physical activity in extreme temperatures in a sub-tropical Chinese urban population: an exploratory telephone survey. BMC Public Health 2023; 23: 101.
  17. Physiopedia. Global Issues Around Physical Activity Available online: [accessed 8.9.2021]
  18. 18.0 18.1 Rocque R., Beaudoin C., Ndjaboue R., Cameron L., Poirier-Bergeron L., Poulin-Rheault R., Fallon C., Tricco A., Witteman H. Health effects of climate change: an overview of systematic reviews. BMJ open. 2021 Jun 1;11(6):e046333.
  19. Eckstein D., Künzel V., Schäfer L. Global Climate Risk Index 2021. Who Suffers Most from Extreme Weather Events. 2021 Jan:2000-19. Available online: [accessed 13.1.2023]
  20. 20.0 20.1 Greenpeace What are the solutions to climate change? Available online: [accessed 7.9.2021]