Climate Change in Catalonia: How Is It Affecting Our Health?

Climate Change in Catalonia: How Is It Affecting Our Health?

28.2.2017

In the Third Report on Climate Change in Catalonia, ISGlobal researchers compiled the scientific evidence on the health effects associated with the changes in our climate

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the existence of climate change is unequivocal. The Earth's temperature has been increasing over recent decades and 97% of climate scientists agree that human activity is influencing the climate system.

We are already experiencing the effects of climate change in different ways, depending on where we live. Torrential rain and flooding have become more common in some areas. Other regions are affected by droughts and heat waves leading to losses in production and shortages of water and food.

And what about the effects of climate change here in Catalonia? This is the subject of the recently published Third Report on Climate Change in Catalonia, the result of contributions from over 140 authors working in Catalan universities and research centres.  In their contribution to this report, a group of ISGlobal researchers compiled the scientific evidence on the health effects associated with the changes in our climate.

Climate change can affect health in many different ways: directly (through variations in temperatures) and indirectly (by way of changes in the food supply or ecosystems, for example). In the chapter on health, we review the latest scientific evidence relating to Catalonia and include projections to illustrate the expected health effects of the climate conditions forecast for coming decades.

According to our calculations, mortality for this reason in Catalonia could increase eightfold by 2050, bringing the number of heat-related deaths in the summer months to over 2,500 a year

Heat is one of the most widely studied health hazards associated with climate change: heat waves cause increases of more than 20% in deaths and hospitalizations, particularly in older adults and people with chronic medical conditions.  We estimate that more than 300 deaths a year in Catalonia are attributable to high temperatures. According to our calculations—which are included in the report—mortality for this reason in Catalonia could increase eightfold by 2050, bringing the number of heat-related deaths in the summer months to over 2,500 a year. This model does not, however, take into account the effects of a possible adaptive response to the new situation on the part of the population.

Estimated number of heat-related deaths in Catalonia for 2025 and 2050.

RCP: Representative Concentration Pathways. The more conservative RCP 4.5 scenario assumes that future emissions will be lower than current levels. The RCP 8.5 scenario envisages an increase in future emissions.

Air pollution, a factor that causes many respiratory and cardiovascular problems in the population, is exacerbated by certain climate conditions, particularly high temperatures. Complications due to air pollution are responsible for an estimated 3,500 premature deaths every year in Catalonia.

Climate change also has an impact on the incidence of vector-borne diseases. The changes in temperature and in precipitation patterns favour the appearance of mosquitoes, the main insect vector responsible for these kinds of diseases. In the case of Catalonia, it is anticipated that the potential risk of vector-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria and chikungunya will rise in coming decades.

In the case of Catalonia, it is anticipated that the potential risk of vector-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria and chikungunya will rise in coming decades

But climate change can also affect the health of the population through other mechanisms, including cold waves and exposure to smoke from forest fires, which have been linked with increases in hospitalizations and deaths, especially as a result of cardiopulmonary problems. The chapter also briefly comments on factors associated with climate change that may be associated with health effects but do not pose a particularly high risk in Catalonia (such as water-borne disease). Also discussed are certain aspects of climate change for which the outcomes in Catalonia are still unclear (ultraviolet radiation, for example).

Increase in the risk of heat-related deaths after 3 consecutive days of high temperatures in Catalonia’s different climate zones (1983-2006).

The way these change will affect us in the future will depend largely on the capacity of the population to adapt to the new situation. However, emergency response planning and policies designed to raise awareness in the population will play a key role in this process. One of the measures for adaptive response to global warming described in the chapter on health in the Report on Climate Change in Catalonia is the Action Plan for the Prevention of Health Hazards related to Heat Waves. The authors of the chapter also analyse two mitigation measures with considerable health benefits: green spaces, especially in urban areas, and the promotion of active transportation.

Climate change has a significant effect on health and we need to devise policies aimed at reducing its negative impacts

In conclusion, climate change has a significant effect on health and we need to devise policies aimed at reducing its negative impacts. The chapter also includes a series of recommendations, including the need to encourage healthier lifestyles through policies promoting active modes of transportation as well as the need to develop and maintain plans for combating the health hazards associated with heat waves and to improve energy efficiency in buildings. At the same time, the authors recommend the implementation of policies aimed at reducing social and economic inequalities.

We encourage you to read this report, which is a source of interesting information, including  the evolution to date of various meteorological variables (temperature, precipitation, etc.)  as well as future projections. It also deals with the impact of climate change on tourism and industry in Catalonia.

The success of the fight against climate change will depend largely on public awareness of its existence.

More information 

Third Report on Climate Change in Catalonia. Chapter on Health written by the ISGlobal researchers Xavier Basagaña, Èrica Martínez, Krijn Paaijmans and Jordi Sunyer.