The results of the Global Risks Report 2023 survey launched ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, reflect a growing awareness in academia, business, government officials and civil society of the significant risks posed by the negative impacts of climate change. The four (4) biggest challenges over a ten-year horizon that humanity faces are considered to be: 1) failure to address climate change (in terms of adaptation and mitigation), 2) failure to adapt to its impacts (negative and positive), 3) extreme weather events and natural disasters, 4) loss of biodiversity with the imminent risk of global ecosystems collapse. In this context, a growing number of publications and reports from international organisations and governmental bodies highlight the urgent need for a drastic strengthening of policies intended to address the impacts of climate change on the society and the economy, i.e. policies related to climate-change adaptation and mitigation.
Impact of climate change on health
The direct and indirect effects of climate change can be identified on public and global health. Direct impacts include exposure to extreme weather events and their consequences, such as high temperatures, droughts, fires and floods, extreme cold and the increased presence of air pollution. Indirect impacts relate to the reduced access to drinking water, adverse impacts on food production and the increase in infectious diseases related to environmental conditions, such as zoonoses and vector-borne diseases. In particular, climate change increases the potential for infectious agents to jump from fauna and flora to the human society, as this probably happened with SARS-CoV-2, a phenomenon known as ‘spillover’. Researchers estimate that the chances of pandemics could increase in the coming decades, mainly due to climate change and human impact on the environment.
In Greece, the main health impacts on the population due to climate change are related to the expected escalation of thermal discomfort (temperatures) in most areas of the country (particularly in Athens) and the expected surge in vector-borne diseases (mainly from mosquitoes), due to the projected increase in the number of warm days. Most likely these factors will put pressure on the health system. The population and social groups with the highest risks of exposure to the negative impacts of climate change are the elderly, children, people with chronic health problems, the poorest sections of society, people living in island and mountainous areas, migrants and mobile populations, and categories of workers whose work is directly linked to climate and weather, such as farmers, firefighters, drivers, transporters and service workers.
Greek health system readiness against the negative impacts of climate change
In Greece, the current socioeconomic environment of continuous, multifaceted and probably permanent crises (austerity policies, widening of social inequalities, geopolitical tensions, energy crisis, environmental degradation, etc.), combined with attempts to privatise and to limit the public nature of the National Health System (NHS), are factors that critically undermine the necessary climate change adaptation of the health sector.
The incomplete or non-existing integration of the dimension regarding the climate change adaptation in most health-related Greek legislation suggests weak or non-sufficiently coordinated preparation of the sector for the forthcoming changes and impacts. In general, the health sector in Greece lacks an organised (with a concrete and tangible action plan) methodology for climate change adaptation at the central, regional and local levels. There are however actions that present a certain relevance to climate change adaptation falling under the area of civil protection and related to protecting citizens from air pollution, fires and floods. These actions however are not part of a comprehensive, integrated and coherent strategy for the Greek health sector’s adaptation to climate change. This weakness has also been observed in relevant studies by the Sustainable Development Observatory of ENA for the tourism and agriculture sectors and applies more generally to the majority of the Greek economy sectors.
Seven proposals for climate adaptation of the Greek health sector
In this context, the following policy suggestions on the general principles for the development of an integrated and coherent framework for the Greek health sector adaptation to climate change are recorded:
- Prioritize climate change adaptation policies at central and local government level with clear strategic coordination, consultation and synergies among all stakeholders, agencies, services and especially citizens, as well as with a focus on health and climate change issues.
- A concrete and realistic action plan for targeted adaptation of the health sector to climate change, beyond the existing generic Greek National Adaptation Strategy.
- Invest in research to estimate and record the real impacts of climate change on the health of the Greek population.
- Expand the epidemiological surveillance mechanisms by integrating scientific data on climate change.
- Plan and ensure a continuous and targeted flow of funding for the adaptation of the Greek health sector.
- Strengthen public accountability of stakeholders by increasing the inclusiveness of society and providing awareness and education programmes to citizens on relevant issues.
- Strengthen strategic planning for sustainable urban development and climate change adaptation in urban areas while prioritizing vulnerable groups and areas.
[Τhe report in Greek]