The climate is changing. This process is already affecting the health of people in the Netherlands. As such, it is important to take immediate action to prepare the Netherlands and its population for climate change and to reduce the effects on health. However, governments will not be able to take appropriate measures without knowledge of the health effects of climate change. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has therefore drawn up an overview of the lacking knowledge about the health effects of climate change.
Building on existing and new knowledge, RIVM has drawn up an action plan at the request of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. This consists of an overview of research questions on the health effects of climate change, including questions about allergies, mental health, infectious diseases, UV radiation and skin cancer, temperature and air quality.
Unknown extent of effects
In 2020, 650 more people than average died in the period surrounding the heat wave. However, it is unknown whether and how many people died from heat, too much ozone or a combination of the two. In order to gain a good insight into the health effects of climate change and to prevent or reduce these effects, it is therefore important to examine the effects in conjunction. In other areas, too, much is still unknown about the extent of health effects that may be caused or aggravated by climate change. For example, it is not known how many people are allergic to pollen and how much they suffer as a result, let alone how this will be affected by climate change.
Although the research focuses mainly on the physical effects of climate change, a comprehensive knowledge agenda for psychological effects has also been created for the first time. An example would be stress caused by floods, not just immediately after the event but also in the long term. This could involve the fear of repetition or financial worries.
Greater focus on health needed in climate plans
The action plan has been drawn up for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. It is down to the Ministry to decide whether or not to implement it. This action plan builds on previous RIVM products. In 2019, the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) published a knowledge agenda for climate and health, drawn up by RIVM in collaboration with WUR and Maastricht University. In 2021, on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, RIVM published a report which investigated whether the health effects of climate change can be quantified and what knowledge is still lacking. Both reports showed that a great deal of knowledge is still lacking in this area. A greater focus on health is urgently needed in climate plans.