According to the World Health Organisation, global warming may bring  localised benefits such as fewer winter deaths in temperate climates and increased food production in certain areas, but the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative. Climate change affects the fundamental requirements for health - clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

Extreme Heat

Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. In the heat wave of summer 2003 in Europe for example, more than 70 000 excess deaths were recorded.

High temperatures also raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Urban air pollution causes about 1.2 million deaths every year.

Pollen and other aeroallergen levels are also higher in extreme heat. These can trigger asthma, which affects around 300 million people. Ongoing temperature increases are expected to increase this burden.

Patterns of infection

Climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold blooded animals.

Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range. For example, climate change is projected to widen significantly the area of China where the snail-borne disease schistosomiasis occurs.

Malaria is strongly influenced by climate. Transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes, malaria kills almost 1 million people every year - mainly African children under five years old. The Aedes mosquito vector of dengue is also highly sensitive to climate conditions. Studies suggest that climate change could expose an additional 2 billion people to dengue transmission by the 2080s.

The Queenlsand Government's Office of Climate Change suggests that climate change is expected to vary the incidence, pattern, range and seasonality of illnesses and disease. It poses direct threats through changes in weather patterns, and increase in heatwaves, cyclones and flash flooding.

The Queensland Government not only provides health services, but also administers a wide number of systems across a number of agencies to protect the health of Queenslanders. The impacts of climate change on the systems that regulate water quality, for example, can also adversely affect health.

Future adaptation action for human health may include:

  • heatwave early warning systems
  • targeted advice on preventative measures for heat
  • extreme event counselling
  • better preparedness of health care and protection services
  • minimising impacts to health infrastructure.