Current Environmental Health Reports

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 160–166 | Cite as

Global Change: a Public Health Researcher’s Ethical Responsibility

  • Mathilde PascalEmail author
  • Pascal Beaudeau
  • Sylvia Medina
  • Nikita Charles Hamilton
Ethics and Policy (M Tondel, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Ethics and Policy


Purpose of Review

Loss of biodiversity and globalized environmental degradation result in planetary-scale changes which impact human societies.

Recent Findings

This paper highlights the urgency for public health researchers to integrate a global change perspective into their daily work. The public health community needs to answer several questions, e.g., how to weight the health of present and future generations; how to balance between the possible immediate adverse impacts of mitigating climate change vs long-term adverse impacts of global change; how to limit the environmental impacts of public health intervention; and how to allocate resources. Public health practitioners are faced with a moral responsibility to address these challenges.


Key elements to ensure long-lasting, innovative global change and health solutions include (i) empowering the population; (ii) tailoring the framing of global change and health impacts for different stakeholders; (iii) adopting less conservative approaches on reporting future scenarios; (iv) increasing accountability about the health impacts of mitigation and adaptation strategies; and (v) recognizing the limits of science.


Global change Climate change Planetary health Biodiversity Public health Ethics 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.
    White M, HertzPicciotto I. Human health: analysis of climate related to health - characterization of information requirements for studies of CO2 effects: water resources, agriculture, fisheries, forests and human health. Washington DC; 1985. 173:202 p.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    McMichael AJ. Health consequences of global climate change. J R Soc Med. 2001;94(3):111–4.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Patz JA, Balbus JM. Methods for assessing public health vulnerability to global climate change. Clim Res. 1996;6(2):113–25.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    UNFCC. Human health and adaptation: understanding climate impacts on health and opportunities for action, vol. 1. Nairobi; 2017. p. 31.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    • Watts N, Amann M, Arnell N, Ayeb-Karlsson S, Belesova K, Berry H, et al. The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come. Lancet (London, England). 2018;392(10163):2479–514 This report summarizes the current knowledge on the heath impacts of climate change, through several indicators, and keep tracks of relevant policies worldwide. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 7.
    Steffen W, Rockström J, Richardson K, Lenton TM, Folke C, Liverman D, et al. Trajectories of the earth system in the Anthropocene. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018;115(33):8252–9.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Sánchez-Bayo F, Wyckhuys KAG. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: a review of its drivers. Biol Conserv. 2019;232:8–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 9.
    Duraiappaj A, Naeem S. Ecosystems and human well-being - biodiversity synthesis. Washington 1:100 p. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  9. 10.
    IPBES. Global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services (IPBES) (draft version). Bonn, Germany; 2019. XXX p. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  10. 11.
    Nations U. About the sustainable development goals [Internet]. 2019. [updated; cited]. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  11. 12.
    Haines A. Addressing challenges to human health in the Anthropocene epoch-an overview of the findings of the Rockefeller/Lancet Commission on planetary health. Int Health. 2017;9(5):269–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 13.
    diversity Cob. Health and biodiversity co-benefits; Aichi target summary table [Internet]. [updated; cited]. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  13. 14.
    Nations U. Paris agreement; 2015. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  14. 15.
    Randalls S. History of the 2°C climate target. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang. 2010;1(4):598–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 16.
    Barnosky AD, Hadly EA, Bascompte J, Berlow EL, Brown JH, Fortelius M, et al. Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature. 2012;486(7401):52–8.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    •• IPCC. Special report on global warming of 1.5 °C - technical summary. Geneva; 2018. 1:25 p. Available from: Accessed May 2019. This report summarizes the current knowledge on the multisectoral consequences of a 1.5 °C warming, and on the possible pathways to respect this threshold. It illustrates the challenges that humanity will face in the coming years.
  17. 18.
    Naidoo R, Gerkey D, Hole D, Pfaff A, Ellis AM, Golden CD, et al. Evaluating the impacts of protected areas on human well-being across the developing world. Sci Adv. 2019;5(4):eaav3006.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    NOAA. Trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide [Internet]. Earth system research laboratory; 2019. [updated; cited]. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  19. 20.
    FAO. The state of the world’s biodiversity for food and agriculture. FAO commission on genetic resources for food and agriculture; 2019. 1:576 p. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  20. 21.
    Gardiner SM. A perfect moral storm: climate change, intergenerational ethics and the problem of moral corruption. Environmental Values. 2006;15(3):397–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 22.
    Somerville R. The ethics of climate change. Yale Environment 360. 2008.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    Adger WN. Vulnerability. Glob Environ Chang. 2006;16(3):268–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 24.
    Jaakkola JJK, Juntunen S, Näkkäläjärvi K. The holistic effects of climate change on the culture, well-being, and health of the Saami, the only indigenous people in the European Union. Current Environmental Health Reports. 2018;5(4):401–17.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. 25.
    Brooks N, Neil Adger W, Mick Kelly P. The determinants of vulnerability and adaptive capacity at the national level and the implications for adaptation. Glob Environ Chang. 2005;15(2):151–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 26.
    Mora C, Spirandelli D, Franklin EC, Lynham J, Kantar MB, Miles W, et al. Broad threat to humanity from cumulative climate hazards intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. Nat Clim Chang. 2018;8(12):1062–71.Google Scholar
  26. 27.
    Jean KWC. Airborne in the era of climate change. Science. 2019;363(6424):240.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 28.
    Brysse K, Oreskes N, O’Reilly J, Oppenheimer M. Climate change prediction: erring on the side of least drama? Glob Environ Chang. 2013;23(1):327–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 29.
    Head L, Harada T. Keeping the heart a long way from the brain: the emotional labour of climate scientists. Emot Space Soc. 2017;24:34–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 30.
    • Workman A, Blashki G, Bowen KJ, Karoly DJ, Wiseman J. The political economy of health co-benefits: embedding health in the climate change agenda. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(4) This paper discusses possible reasons for the lack of focus on health in climate-related policies. Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    Gautier APM. Le nexus biodiversité-santé. ENSV Vetagrosup; 2019. 1:96 p. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  31. 32.
    Myers TA, Nisbet MC, Maibach EW, Leiserowitz AA. A public health frame arouses hopeful emotions about climate change: a letter. Clim Chang. 2012;113(3–4):1105–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 33.
    Maibach EW, Nisbet M, Baldwin P, Akerlof K, Diao G. Reframing climate change as a public health issue: an exploratory study of public reactions. BMC Public Health. 2010;10.Google Scholar
  33. 34.
    Hart PS, Feldman L. Would it be better to not talk about climate change? The impact of climate change and air pollution frames on support for regulating power plant emissions. J Environ Psychol. 2018;60:1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 35.
    Moore FC, Obradovich N, Lehner F, Baylis P. Rapidly declining remarkability of temperature anomalies may obscure public perception of climate change. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2019;201816541.Google Scholar
  35. 36.
    Wolfe SE, Tubi A. Terror management theory and mortality awareness: a missing link in climate response studies? Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang. 2019;10(2):e566.Google Scholar
  36. 37.
    Legagneux P, Casajus N, Cazelles K, Chevallier C, Chevrinais M, Guéry L, et al. Our house is burning: discrepancy in climate change vs. biodiversity coverage in the media as compared to scientific literature. Front Ecol Evol. 2018;5(JAN).Google Scholar
  37. 38.
    Graham R, Compton J, Meador K. A systematic review of peer-reviewed literature authored by medical professionals regarding US biomedicine’s role in responding to climate change. Prev Med Rep. 2019;13:132–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 39.
    Yang L, Liao W, Liu C, Zhang N, Zhong S, Huang C. Associations between knowledge of the causes and perceived impacts of climate change: a cross-sectional survey of medical, public health and nursing students in universities in China. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(12).Google Scholar
  39. 40.
    Vorreux CBM, Renaudin A. Mobiliser l’enseignement supérieur pour le climat: former les étudiants pour décarboner la société. Paris, France; 2019. 1:102 p.Google Scholar
  40. 41.
    Guo Y, Gasparrini A, Li S, Sera F, Vicedo-Cabrera AM, de Sousa Zanotti Stagliorio Coelho M, et al. Quantifying excess deaths related to heatwaves under climate change scenarios: a multicountry time series modelling study. PLoS Med. 2018;15(7):e1002629.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  41. 42.
    Vicedo-Cabrera AM, Guo Y, Sera F, Huber V, Schleussner CF, Mitchell D, et al. Temperature-related mortality impacts under and beyond Paris Agreement climate change scenarios. Clim Chang. 2018;150(3–4):391–402.Google Scholar
  42. 43.
    Bathiany S, Scheffer M, Van Nes EH, Williamson MS, Lenton TM. Abrupt climate change in an oscillating world. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):5040.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. 44.
    Chevalier M, Grenouillet G. Global assessment of early warning signs that temperature could undergo regime shifts. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1).Google Scholar
  44. 45.
    Vandyck T, Keramidas K, Kitous A, Spadaro JV, Van Dingenen R, Holland M, et al. Air quality co-benefits for human health and agriculture counterbalance costs to meet Paris Agreement pledges. Nat Commun. 2018;9(1):4939.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  45. 46.
    Ineris. Comment concilier qualité de l’air et chauffage domestique au bois? vol. 1. France: Ineris; 2018. 2 p. Available from: Accessed May 2019.
  46. 47.
    Samset BH. How cleaner air changes the climate. Science. 2018;360(6385):148–50.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. 48.
    Ito K, Lane K, Olson C. Equitable access to air conditioning: a city health department’s perspective on preventing heat-related deaths. Epidemiology. 2018;29(6):749–52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mathilde Pascal
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pascal Beaudeau
    • 1
  • Sylvia Medina
    • 1
  • Nikita Charles Hamilton
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Santé Publique FranceSaint-MauriceFrance
  2. 2.The University of SheffieldSheffieldEngland
  3. 3.Jagiellonian University Medical CollegeKrakówPoland
  4. 4.École des Hautes Études en Santé Publique (EHESP)RennesFrance

Personalised recommendations