Ready for Change: Preparing the Public Health Sector for Climate Change
Climate change poses a significant and emerging threat to public health. Drought, heat waves, flooding, and disease are all exacerbated by climate change. Across the globe, climate change has been directly linked with hundreds of thousands of deaths each year and indirectly affects the health of a comparable number of people. Public health agencies and organizations can play a vital role in helping to prepare the public for these impacts, and in reducing emissions that lead to further changes in our global climate. The Climate Leadership Initiative's (CLI) two handbooks (Ready for Change: Preparing Public Health Agencies for the Impacts of Climate Change and Leading by Example: Emissions Reductions in Public Health Agencies) provide step-by-step actions and case studies for public health agencies to become role models for mitigation and adaptation. Actions are identified by capacity and finanical requirements for implementation. The guidebooks also provide recommendations for cross-department collaboration and communication strategies within the organization and with the public.
The State of Oregon is likely to experience a myriad of climate change impacts including higher temperatures, reduced snowpack, earlier spring runoff, and increased wildfires. These impacts will not only affect Oregon's economy, built environment and ecosystems, it is also likely to have a significant effect on public health including increased instances of vector-borne diseases, higher rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases, higher rates of communicable disease spread, and increased heat stroke and mortality.
In 2008, CLI and the Oregon Coalition of Local Health Officials (CLHO) surveyed local public health departments across Oregon to assess their knowledge of climate change impacts, actions being taken to prepare for and adapt to these impacts, and resources needed for taking action.
In 2008, the CLI and CLHO distributed a survey to public health workers in 35 county health departments across Oregon. The objectives of the survey included:
- assess current knowledge of health risks associated with climate change;
- assess current level of preparation to manage climate-associated health risks; and
- identify resources and training needed to help county health departments prepare for and adapt to climate-associated health risks.
Survey responses were received from 25 out of 35 counties. Major findings included:
- The majority of respondents felt that global climate change is a serious problem, but only about a third of the health departments surveyed have made efforts to reduce emissions;
- In general, respondents are knowledgeable about climate change impacts on public health;
- Two-thirds of counties with respondents believe they are already feeling the effects of climate change and the majority of respondents expect climate change to cause greater impacts on public health in the next 20 years; and
- Ninety-seven percent of respondents do not consider climate change preparation as one of their top five priorities, but most agreed that if dedicated resources were provided, Oregon would be able to adequately prepare for and adapt to climate-associated health risks.
Funding for the survey was provided by the Northwest Health Foundation.
Outcomes and Conclusions
Based on information from these surveys, the CLI developed mitigation and adaptation guidebooks for public health, and is working with the CHLO to roll out a series of climate change trainings, including webinars and in-person trainings, for public health and emergency managers across the state and region. Trainings will eventually be expanded regionally and nationally.
Several recommendations were offered to improve the understanding and preparedness of public health workers for climate change including:
- Educate local decision-makers;
- Expand collaboration;
- Provide training on how to develop a climate change preparation plan;
- Find ways to incorporate climate change considerations into existing programs; and
- Provide information on public health risks for specific communities by scaling climate change models to the local level.
Project File (s)
Kershner, J. & Vynne S. (2011). Ready for Change: Preparing the Public Health Sector for Climate Change [Case study on a project of The Resource Innovation Group's Climate Leadership Initiative]. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/ready-change-preparing-public-health-sector-… (Last updated May 2011)