Global Climate Change: Federal Research on Possible Human Health Effects [Updated February 10, 2006]   [open pdf - 57KB]

"The average global temperature has risen approximately 0.6oC (0.9oF) over the past century. Global mean temperatures are projected by recent computer models to increase by 1.8oC to as much as 7.1oC (2.7oF to 10.7oF) over the next 100 years. It appears likely that global mean temperature increases will continue, and projections into the future predict a variety of possible related impacts in general, such as more volatile weather patterns, increased incidence of hot spells, and changing precipitation patterns that may include more intense rainfall patterns, as well as changing and intensified drought patterns. Extensive research is underway concerning the links between climate and human health; however, much of this research is being done for reasons unrelated to climate change per se. Health effects research topics are very wide-ranging, including studying skin and eye damage from increased ultraviolet radiation, effects of damaged water infrastructure, dynamics of recovering from disasters, and ways to strengthen the capacity in developing countries to deal with infectious diseases. Three conclusions are common to several studies on possible health effects of climate change: the infirm, the elderly, and the poor may be disproportionately impacted if climate change results in more severe and/or more frequent episodes of heat waves and air pollution; the risks of vector- and water-borne diseases may increase with global warming, but countries and regions with adequate sanitation, surveillance, and public health systems may not see significant increases in disease incidence or distribution; and further research is needed to better understand the complex linkages between climate and health. Human health problems that may be linked to climate change are not created by changes in climate per se; rather, they are problems independent of climate change that may be exacerbated or intensified by changing weather patterns (climate, a longer-term phenomenon, can be considered to be the average of shorter-term weather patterns). Most health research is being conducted for reasons unrelated to climate change, but researchers are alert to ways in which environmental factors affecting health may be altered by climate change. In its oversight responsibilities, Congress may wish to consider the priorities and coordination of federally funded climate change health research."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL31519
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