Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
March 27, 2008
United States Global Engagement on Climate Change and Public Health
Updated on 3/31/08
Throughout the world, the prevalence of some diseases and other threats to human health depends substantially on local climate, public health services, and other socioeconomic factors, and may be affected by climate change. The United States is collaborating with international partners in a broad range of activities designed to better understand climate and its implications for human health and to build resilience to climate variability and change. These activities aim to improve local health systems, strengthen global surveillance systems, advance climate science, and mainstream climate considerations into sustainable development. Examples of activities supported by the United States are listed below.
Improving Local Health Systems
Preparedness for the health consequences of climate change aligns with traditional public health services, and – like preparedness for terrorism and pandemic influenza – reinforces the importance of a strong public health infrastructure. The United States supports programs to ensure that developing country health systems are effective, efficient, and equitable.
- The U.S. Government is the largest health donor, contributing more than $6.6 billion in FY07, and funding a range of programs that recognize the need for a multisectoral response to public health and that address health policy, management, training, supply chain, human resources, physical infrastructure, monitoring and evaluation, communications – virtually every aspect of health systems.
- Through programs that support training in field epidemiology, sustainable management, and decision making, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) assist countries around the world to build strong, effective, sustainable health programs and increase their capacity to improve public health systems on a local, regional, and national level.
- In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) created and introduced a tool for comprehensively mapping public and private funding sources and how funds are used for health sector activities. This approach, known as national health accounts (NHAs), is being applied in more than 65 developing countries to strengthen national health policy and decision-making processes.
- The U.S. Excessive Heat Events Guidebook provides public health officials with information on risks and impacts from excessive heat events, guidance on forecasting and identifying excessive heat events, and comprehensive options for the development of Excessive Heat Response Plans.
Strengthening Global Surveillance
The United States invests in technologies to provide advanced warning and key information about climate-related events that could threaten human health.
- The U.S. Government collaborates with developing country partners to operate the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS). Currently in 27 countries, the FEWS combines data from satellite observations with local meteorological, crop, and livelihood information to provide early warnings of food security risks. Similar programs are being developed to warn of risks of meningitis, malaria, and locust outbreaks.
- The U.S. Government supports RANET (Radio and Internet for the Communication of Hydro-Meteorological and Climate-Related Information for Development), which is an international collaboration that uses reserve satellite capacity to transmit weather forecasts, seasonal assessments, and data to remote areas. Rural communities and resource poor populations use this information to better anticipate and cope with climate variability.
- Based on the successful SERVIR program – a U.S. led high-tech satellite visualization system that monitors the environment of Central America – the U.S. Government is developing regional hubs in Africa and beyond to apply remotely sensed information to help track and combat wildfire, improve land use and agricultural practices, and help local officials respond faster to natural disasters.
Advancing Climate Science
Given the complexity of factors that influence human health, assessing health impacts related to climate change poses a difficult technical challenge. The United States supports national and international climate change research and activities that are targeted to better understand and predict health threats from climate variability and change.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Global Change Research Program supports research on the interactions of natural and human-induced changes in the global environment and their implications for society – including research and assessment activities focused on the consequences of global change on weather related morbidity and vector and waterborne diseases.
- The NIH supports hundreds of research projects in the U.S. and around the world that aim to understand the basic science underlying health effects of climate change, including skin cancer, lung disease, infectious diseases, allergies, heat stroke, cataracts and trauma, among others. For example, the NIH’s Fogarty International Center conducts and supports research to develop computational models to understand and predict infectious disease dynamics in relation to environmental changes including climate.
- The CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases collaborates with international partners on studies to outline adaptation measures for vector-borne infectious diseases that may be affected by climate change. The U.S. Guatemala field station is studying the impact that adverse climatological events, such as El Niño and hurricanes, have had on the transmission dynamics of malaria and other diseases.
Including Climate Considerations within Sustainable Development
Countries in the developing world are justifiably focused on economic growth, environmental resource management, social stability, and other aspects of sustainable development. The United States believes climate policies should recognize, complement, and advance these priorities, which enable and enforce good public health and build more resilient societies. The United States helps countries incorporate climate change policies into their broader sustainable development agenda.
- USAID has included global climate change in its development assistance efforts since 1991, spending approximately $2.6 billion on climate-related programs to-date (and over $1.1 billion since 2001). The Agency’s strategy has been to incorporate climate change considerations into development projects, to provide climate related benefits while also meeting development objectives in the energy and water sectors, urban areas, forest conservation, agriculture, and disaster assistance.
- The USAID Climate Change Program has developed an Adaptation Guidance Manual to help developing and transition countries incorporate climate-related concerns into mainstream development projects. For example, in Mali USAID works with farmers to plant crop varieties that are better suited to changing temperature and precipitation patterns. In South Africa, which is increasingly vulnerable to water stress, USAID works with local stakeholders and the water utility to identify water demand management and infrastructure needs to better meet water requirements as the climate changes.
- In the Caribbean region, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collaborates with the Secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on the Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change Project. The U.S. works with partner countries to incorporate climate adaptation into national development planning and private investment decisions in key areas such as watershed planning, coastal zone management, and outreach.
- Building on existing regional efforts in climate science and services, the U.S. funded Pacific Islands Regional Integrated Science and Assessment (Pacific RISA) program works with Pacific Island communities to develop integrated climate risk management in key sectors such as water resource management, coastal resources, agriculture, disaster management, and public health.
Last updated March 28, 2008. These activities are part of a broader U.S. strategy to address climate change and support sustainable development. For more information about U.S. actions to address climate change please visit the U.S. Department of State website at: http://www.state.gov/g/oes/climate/.