What we fund

Climate change and health

Our planet’s climate is changing, and it’s already affecting our health.

If climate change continues at its current rate, it will cause widespread health impacts for many years to come.

Children wearing face masks
Science has clearly shown that climate change is a real and continually growing threat to human health. The changing climate will impact on all of us but especially those who are already the most vulnerable.
Dr Angela Hind
Chief Executive, Medical Research Foundation

What is climate change?

‘Climate change’ refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.

Human activities like the burning of fossil fuels generate greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) that have trapped the earth’s heat and raised its temperatures.

The average temperature of the earth’s surface is now 1. 1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was just 200 years ago, and the period of 2011 to 2020 was the warmest decade on record.

The consequences of rising temperatures include droughts, extreme weather events, water scarcity, severe fires and rising sea levels.

How is climate change affecting health?

Climate change is already affecting our health and, if changes continue at their current rate, it will cause widespread health impacts in years to come.

Because of the rise of the earth’s temperature, there has been an increase in the scale, severity and intensity of natural disasters, like heatwaves, wildfires, floods, storms and hurricanes. These events can cause death, injury, transmission of disease, displacement of communities, loss of livelihoods, and destruction of health infrastructure - like hospitals and emergency services.

Extreme heat itself can have broad-ranging health impacts – causing crop failure, malnutrition, water scarcity, and an increase of non-communicable diseases (diseases like diabetes, heart disease or cancer, that are not transmitted through infection). Heat can also contribute to a rise in vector-borne diseases (diseases spread via insects, like malaria), and water-borne diseases (such as cholera or hepatitis A).

Increasing levels of air pollution are worsened by harmful emissions, extreme heat, and natural disasters (like droughts and wildfires). This is causing a rise in respiratory infections and disease.

Many of the health impacts of climate change are likely to be more indirect, and therefore harder to measure. Changing climates may force populations to relocate, may have socioeconomic impacts on communities as industries will suffer (e.g. agriculture), and put pressure on healthcare services - all of which could impact people’s physical and mental health.

Countries with less-supported infrastructure and lower GDP are likely to be less able to cope with the impacts of climate change.

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We can see the changing climate impacting on health already. Urgent, major action is needed, which is why we’re funding new research into the health impacts of climate change.
Dr Angela Hind
Chief Executive, Medical Research Foundation

Why is more research needed?

Although the health impacts of climate change are generally understood, it remains difficult to accurately estimate the scale and range of impacts of climate change-related risks to health. This is why research in this area is so vital.

We're funding ground-breaking new research across Africa and the UK into how our changing climate is affecting human health.

Climate change is an urgent threat that requires us to act quickly. Understanding the full scope of its impacts, and being able to make accurate predictions as to its health effects, will take us closer to being able to cope with the changing climate and mitigate the health problems we face as a result of it.

£2.6 million

invested in life-changing research into the impact of climate change on health

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Support life-changing research into climate change

Urgent action is needed to alleviate the impact of climate change on global health. Support pioneering studies and secure the future of human health.

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