Background: Three major international agreements signed in 2015 are key milestones for transitioning to more sustainable and resilient societies: the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction; and the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Together, these agreements underscore the critical importance of understanding and managing the health risks of global changes, to ensure continued population health improvements in the face of significant social and environmental change over this century.
Body: Funding priorities of major health institutions and organizations in the U.S. and Europe do not match research investments with needs to inform implementation of these international agreements. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health commit 0.025 % of their annual research budget to climate change and health. The European Union Seventh Framework Programme committed 0.08 % of the total budget to climate change and health; the amount committed under Horizon 2020 was 0.04 % of the budget. Two issues apparently contributing to this mismatch are viewing climate change primarily as an environmental problem, and therefore the responsibility of other research streams; and narrowly framing research into managing the health risks of climate variability and change from the perspective of medicine and traditional public health. This reductionist, top-down perspective focuses on proximate, individual level risk factors. While highly successful in reducing disease burdens, this framing is insufficient to protect health and well-being over a century that will be characterized by profound social and environmental changes.
Conclusions: International commitments in 2015 underscored the significant challenges societies will face this century from climate change and other global changes. However, the low priority placed on understanding and managing the associated health risks by national and international research institutions and organizations leaves populations poorly prepared to cope with changing health burdens. Risk-centered, systems approaches can facilitate understanding of the complex interactions and dependencies across environmental, social, and human systems. This understanding is needed to formulate effective interventions targeting socio-environmental factors that are as important for determining health burdens as are individual risk factors.
2016. Vol. 15, 108