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Climate change adaptation: Where does global health fit in the agenda?

Abstract

Human-induced climate change will affect the lives of most populations in the next decade and beyond. It will have greatest, and generally earliest, impact on the poorest and most disadvantaged populations on the planet. Changes in climatic conditions and increases in weather variability affect human wellbeing, safety, health and survival in many ways. Some impacts are direct-acting and immediate, such as impaired food yields and storm surges. Other health effects are less immediate and typically occur via more complex causal pathways that involve a range of underlying social conditions and sectors such as water and sanitation, agriculture and urban planning. Climate change adaptation is receiving much attention given the inevitability of climate change and its effects, particularly in developing contexts, where the effects of climate change will be experienced most strongly and the response mechanisms are weakest. Financial support towards adaptation activities from various actors including the World Bank, the European Union and the United Nations is increasing substantially. With this new global impetus and funding for adaptation action come challenges such as the importance of developing adaptation activities on a sound understanding of baseline community needs and vulnerabilities, and how these may alter with changes in climate. The global health community is paying heed to the strengthening focus on adaptation, albeit in a slow and unstructured manner. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of adaptation and its relevance to global health, and highlight the opportunities to improve health and reduce health inequities via the new and additional funding that is available for climate change adaptation activities.