Tracking the impacts of climate change on human health via indicators: lessons from the Lancet Countdown
Background In the past decades, climate change has been impacting human lives and health via extreme weather and climate events and alterations in labour capacity, food security, and the prevalence and geographical distribution of infectious diseases across the globe. Climate change and health indicators (CCHIs) are workable tools designed to capture the complex set of interdependent interactions through which climate change is affecting human health. Since 2015, a novel sub-set of CCHIs, focusing on climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability indicators (CCIEVIs) has been developed, refined, and integrated by Working Group 1 of the “Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change”, an international collaboration across disciplines that include climate, geography, epidemiology, occupation health, and economics.
This research in practice article is a reflective narrative documenting how we have developed CCIEVIs as a discrete set of quantifiable indicators that are updated annually to provide the most recent picture of climate change’s impacts on human health. In our experience, the main challenge was to define globally relevant indicators that also have local relevance and as such can support decision making across multiple spatial scales. We found a hazard, exposure, and vulnerability framework to be effective in this regard. We here describe how we used such a framework to define CCIEVIs based on both data availability and the indicators’ relevance to climate change and human health. We also report on how CCIEVIs have been improved and added to, detailing the underlying data and methods, and in doing so provide the defining quality criteria for Lancet Countdown CCIEVIs.
Our experience shows that CCIEVIs can effectively contribute to a world-wide monitoring system that aims to track, communicate, and harness evidence on climate-induced health impacts towards effective intervention strategies. An ongoing challenge is how to improve CCIEVIs so that the description of the linkages between climate change and human health can become more and more comprehensive.