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Strengthening the base: preparing health research for climate change


Evidence on neglected research priorities


Shahab, Saqib
Ghaffar, Abdul
Peterson Stearns, Beverly
Woodward, Alister


Climate change, Development, Equity, Global Forum for Health Research, Health, Poor, Research








Climate change

There is irrefutable proof of climate change due to human activity, most notably caused by the release of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use. The impact is expected to accelerate if immediate steps are not taken to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

While this primary cause of climate change comes largely from developed countries, as developing countries grow, they also will add to the problem.

Moreover, it will be the people of the developing world on whom climate change will exact the greatest toll – the same populations that already bear the heaviest burdens of infectious and chronic diseases. Millions are at risk of increasing health problems stemming from floods, drought, windstorms. Additionally, infectious diseases are spreading into areas once too cold for them to persist.

More research is needed

The need for research and action is urgent. Research can make vital contributions to mitigating the impacts of climate change on the health of the poor and to enabling adaptations to those changes that are no longer unavoidable.

It is imperative to integrate climate change research into relevant areas of health and social sector research to ensure that progress made in these areas are not then offset by the effects of climate change.

The concern regarding climate change research is consistent with the mission of the Global Forum for Health Research, which is to apply research to the health problems of the world’s poor and most vulnerable.

The call for action

  • Climate change must become a priority in health research frameworks and it must be recognized by policy-makers from both health and non-health backgrounds.
  • Research on ways to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use is absolutely essential such as increasing public and industry interest in cleaner energy production technologies.
  • Research on adaptation to the changing climate is also critical as significant climate change already appears inevitable.
  • Research initiatives pertaining to food security, water and sanitation, vector-borne diseases, air quality, thermal stress and emergency preparedness must identify how they have adjusted for progressive climate change in a sustainable way.
  • Research on climate change and health needs to be interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral and developed with a strong focus on poverty and equity; it also must be both empirical and applied. It needs to look at broad ecological, demographic and socioeconomic issues to assess both the impact and the opportunities for intervention.
  • Alternate multidisciplinary funding streams for research and knowledge translation and dissemination need to be established for the human health needs for adaptation to climate change.
  • Strengthen current public health systems to ensure safe water and food supplies, sanitation and disaster preparedness while preventing an increase or emergence of disease.
  • Existing ecological frameworks need to be evaluated and interventions developed that integrate climate change into existing public health models.


Funding for research on the health effects of climate change and adaptation mechanisms is significantly limited. Furthermore, most research relating to climate change and health conducted to date has been financed and conducted in high-income countries and has paid little attention to the particular health needs of low- and middle-income countries.

The next steps

The next steps will be to establish the research agenda on ways to counter climate change threats to the health of the world's poorest populations. Then the resources to implement priorities on the agenda must be quickly found and the results used to focus policies and action.