Conclusions and recommendations on human health and climate change in the Arctic
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This is Chapter 15 of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.
Lead Authors: Jim Berner, Christopher Furgal; Contributing Authors: Peter Bjerregaard, Mike Bradley, Tine Curtis, Edward De Fabo, Juhani Hassi, William Keatinge, Siv Kvernmo, Simo Nayha, Hannu Rintamaki, John Warren.
This chapter discusses direct and indirect relationships and impacts, both positive and negative, between climate-related changes and human health in northern communities. The likelihood of these impacts occurring in any specific community or region is difficult to determine. The risk of impact depends on many factors, both current and future. The most obvious conclusion that can be drawn is that much research remains to be done on the relationship between climate change and individual and community health in the Arctic. Climate will continue to influence public health in the small remote communities of the Arctic. The recent record warming, and the scenario of future warming, combined with the multiple mechanisms by which climate impacts on health indicate urgent need for adopting community-based monitoring strategies.
A network of such communities, within and across regions, reporting a common set of similarly measured climate, health status, infrastructure, and ecosystem observations would serve to identify both emerging threats, and opportunities. In addition, this would allow utilization of public health data to quantify impact, and provide the basis for resource advocacy, and to suggest mitigation strategies, as well as jurisdictional policy. Communities must monitor changes that may represent threats or adverse impacts. Where possible, they must proactively develop coping or adaptation strategies. Similarly, they must take advantage of potential opportunities that these environmental changes present. Thus, regional and national governments need to assist in the design, and provide support for community based monitoring and mitigation strategies to cope with climate change.
Principal conclusions and recommendations (15.7.1)
There is a lack of comparability in health status data between countries.
A core group of health status indicators, gathered and defined identically, should be a high priority for Arctic Council member nations.
There is a need for a carefully planned strategy, at the community and regional level, to monitor and document environmental change.
Arctic Council members and program workgroups should provide technical assistance regarding monitoring strategies, climate impact mitigation and pilot studies, data analysis, and evaluation.
There is a lack of an organized effort to collect and utilize indigenous knowledge regarding climate and climate changes.
Indigenous knowledge, and its preservation, should be encouraged among Arctic Council member nations.
There are few data on the impact of changing UV-B exposure in the Arctic on the biota and human residents. There is little systematic monitoring of ground-level UV-B radiation.
Academic and United Nations organizations have created UV-B research strategies. With regional and community collaboration, research and monitoring strategies relevant to circumpolar populations should be created.
There are few data on climate change impacts on regional biota. A critical need exists for the monitoring of wildlife diseases, and human–wildlife disease interaction. There are few data on climate-induced changes in the diet of subsistence species, which affects their nutritional value in traditional diets.
Arctic Council programs have the expertise to design effective regional and international monitoring programs in cooperation with communities. This critical activity should be given a high priority.
There is no systematic monitoring in all regions for safety of snow and ice conditions for local/regional travel and subsistence activities.
Regional governments should collaborate with communities to establish appropriate monitoring and communication networks; dissemination of appropriate traditional and modern survival skills should be systematically taught to children and young people.
Monitoring is critical in regions of the Arctic where physical infrastructure depends on permafrost or where a village site depends on sea ice protection from storm erosion.
Regional governments should assist in developing community-based monitoring.
Data on contaminant transport into and out of the Arctic is critical for projecting impact and risk for arctic wildlife and residents. Changing climate makes monitoring essential.
International coordinated research and monitoring of changing contaminant transport pathways should continue and expand where needed.
In all areas, there is a need for local and regional integrated analyses of the associations between arctic health status and climate variables. This can be accomplished by the establishment of monitoring and data collection mechanisms where they do not already exist. Also, public health education programs should incorporate, where possible, information on risks associated with the environmental changes most relevant to their region.
Recommendations for monitoring and research (15.7.2)
Specific recommendations for monitoring and research are as follows.
Thermal stress and arctic human health
Establish organized monitoring and data collection programs (inclusive of local perspectives and indigenous knowledge) involving, but not limited to, the indicators identified in this chapter to support community understanding of changes in arctic health owing to thermal stress.
UV-B radiation and arctic human health
Measure incident UV-B radiation at ground and individual levels using personal dosimeters and ground-based integrating and spectral radiometers.
Carry out cross-sectional population based surveys and follow-up studies in the Arctic and other areas to investigate the causal relationship between UV-B irradiance and cataract and other UV-B induced health effects to the eye such as climatic droplet keratopathy.
Compile local residents’ knowledge and perceptions of UV-B radiation and its effects on health in order to supplement scientific data and obtain new knowledge about existing UV-B related habits, particularly with regard to skin, and immune system and eye impacts.
Establish an international network of UV radiation research centers and monitoring programs.
Expand collection of epidemiological data on key UV-B and health issues (e.g., arctic cataract data are difficult to obtain as are sunburn and cold-sore data).
Wildlife, diet, and health
Establish community based and regional scale monitoring programs for the indicators identified in this chapter. Where problems are identified (e.g., increasing incidences of exposure to zoonotic diseases), establish surveillance programs to protect the health, social, economic, and cultural benefits of harvesting subsistence species while maintaining confidence in and the benefits of consuming these foods.
Snow, ice, and arctic community health
Establish surveillance and communication networks at the community level to support early warning of dangerous conditions for travel and land-based activities (weather, ice conditions, etc.).
Provide support for community freezers and other food supplement and food safety programs to ensure access to safe and healthy traditional foods in arctic communities.
Develop education programs for young people, based on traditional survival skills, to enhance individual capacity to continue aspects of a traditional lifestyle.
Infrastructure and arctic human health
Establish local level monitoring programs for data collection on permafrost and infrastructure stability.
Monitor ground temperatures and compare to historic measurements.
Monitor basal depth of permafrost and compare to historic measurements.
Monitor coastal and river bank erosion and compare to historic measurements.
Monitor incidence of flooding caused by storm surges or heavy precipitation.
Monitor emergency projects for repair of failing infrastructure.
Society, culture, climate, and arctic health
Research the role of the environment, specifically climate-related variables, in community change for small remote locations.
Research to support the understanding of the cultural context and variables influencing individual and community vulnerability, capacity, and resilience in relation to the impacts these changes represent.
Chapter 15: Human Health
15.2. Socio-cultural conditions, health status, and demography
15.3. Potential impacts of direct mechanisms of climate change on human health
15.4. Potential impacts of indirect mechanisms of climate change on human health
15.5. Environmental change and social, cultural, and mental health
15.6. Developing a community response to climate change and health
15.7. Conclusions and recommendations
Acknowledgements: Jim Berner would like to acknowledge the support of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium during the preparation of the assessment. For John Warren, Mike Bradley, and Jim Berner, it would not have been possible to participate without that support.