Climate-related health impacts in Africa
Climate change is defined as the shift in global and regional climate (i.e. long-term meteorological patterns typically spanning between decades to millennia) impacting ice, oceans, and land on Earth. This phenomenon is palpable across all nations at different levels and poses a range of human and animal health system burdens. In a recent United Nations (UN) report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a recent analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO), climate-related health emergencies are most prominently on the rise in Africa, where more than half of regional public health events in the past 20 years are linked to climate variables, and climate-related health events have increased in frequency by 25% over the past decade.
The WHO analysis determined that water-borne disease accounts for 40% of climate-associated health events in Africa, including diarrheal diseases which are the third leading cause of disease and death in children under 5 years of age. Vector-borne diseases, especially yellow fever, accounted for 28% of climate-associated diseases, which included the striking increase in prevalence of zoonotic Congo-Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF), a tick-borne viral disease amplified by livestock hosts which can produce fatality rates in hospitalized human cases as high as 50%. Climate change is expected to continue to expand high-risk zones for mosquito-borne viruses, including malaria and dengue fever. These trends have been directly attributed to environmental disturbances, including frequent floods, droughts, and other natural disasters which in themselves induce long-term health vulnerabilities due to associated malnutrition, hunger, and community displacement.
Reports just last week of the devastating floods in South Africa and extreme weather events (including droughts, cyclones, and tropical storms) across the African continent, underline the need for careful mitigation strategies applied in the face of high seasonal variability in rainfall and temperatures. Such factors, which are attributed to a rise in global greenhouse gas (GHG) accumulation, have led to documented disruptions of terrestrial and marine life, migratory bird biodiversity, reduced ecosystem adaptivity, and eradication of coastal and island communities. For example, a recent estimate from UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) expects up to 20 million people to be at risk of starvation in 2022 in the Horn of Africa and other East African regions.
Nature-based solutions to mitigate impacts of climate change
With keeping an eye toward ameliorating climate change as well as achieving the 2015 UN-stipulated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the recent IPCC report also gave focus to an increasing body of evidence suggesting that impacts of climate change on humans and animals, including frequent and severe weather events, sea level rise, erosion, droughts, and other climatic risks, can be addressed by specific ecosystem-based mitigation and investment measures. Such an approach is believed to enhance resilience to societal challenges (i.e. Adaptation) while reducing drivers of climate change itself (i.e. Mitigation) through the management and restoration of ecosystem biodiversity. These strategies, often termed in omnibus as Nature-based Solutions (NbS), have become not only prominent in ecological and climate science literature but have also taken center stage in critical policy decision making, including the Biden administration’s directive announced during last week’s 2022 Earth Day: “Enlisting Nature in the Fight Against Climate Change."
From planting drought-resistant crops, to the restoration of mangroves or saltmarshes, and protecting carbon-withholding natural forests and soils, there is emerging evidence to suggest that such NbS approaches not only reduce the emissions of GHG, but can also assist in buttressing food systems, improve the acquisition of economically beneficial commodities, and provide ancillary opportunities, such as access to areas of recreation or improved mental health outcomes. Oxford University’s NbS evidence platform can be accessed to more comprehensively explore empirical and modeling evidence behind various NbS interventions to address climate change impacts, compare social, economic, and ecological effects of various NbS interventions, and to link interventions with climate policy.
Though emerging evidence suggests that NbS, in specific contexts, can bring about a wide range of ecosystem service improvements that have direct and collateral benefits, there remains a gap in knowledge around cost-effectiveness and possible unintended consequences or maladaptation. Standardized metrics of NbS effectiveness that work across different scales and that capture sociological and ecological dimensions of effectiveness do not currently exist. Additionally, in many cases, economic benefits relative to costs tend to be underestimated, with many outcomes such as carbon sequestration, water security, or biodiversity resilience being extremely difficult to monetize. Timescales are also a critical factor: Under climate change stress, responses based on engineered solutions are implemented with known types and timescales of benefits, and are appreciated differently than NbS which may produce inter-dependent benefits that may or may not be reaped when costs are incurred.
There are four key developing areas relevant to the expansion of NbS activity at the federal level in the United States. These include:
The recent release of the Compendium of Federal Nature-Based Solutions for Coastal Communities, States, Tribes, and Territories, which profiles > 100 resources and 48 federal programs that can support NbS
A multi-agency report to the National Climate Task Force on opportunities for greater deployment of NbS
Enhanced support from the Office of Management and Budget to assist monetary valuation of ecosystem resources and services by the Commerce Department and the Office of Science and Technology Policy
A first-ever comprehensive accounting of the condition and benefits of all land, water, and wildlife across the United States, conducted by a 13-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Drafting a regional climate change vision and action plan
The Minnesota Climate Change subcabinet was created in 2019 by Climate Change Executive Order (19-37) to put Minnesota on track to meet or exceed greenhouse gas reduction goals and achieve 100% clean energy by 2050, has released a draft of the Climate Action Framework for public comment. While the plan focuses predominantly on laying out a vision and broad goals for climate change, it also proposes a number of action steps that hinge on technological and NbS approaches. The plan strategically calls for addressing climate change alongside social inequities as a major principle of the framework, including minimization or reduction of climate impacts on low-income communities of color, rural communities, indigenous communities, children, and elderly.
Though like other Northern U.S. states, Minnesota is considered one of the least vulnerable states to climate-related threats, Minnesota nevertheless faces serious environmental, infrastructural, economic, and public health ramifications. The draft framework reports that winter nights in northern Minnesota are 7.3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than a century ago. Annual precipitation across the state has increased by an average of 3.4 inches, with southeast Minnesota increasing by twice that amount, and yearly losses of productive lakes and lake-ice. Minnesota is home to a landscape like none other in the United States. It has conifer-dominated boreal forests to the north; temperate forests in the middle, dominated by deciduous trees such as oak and maple; and prairie stretching to the south and west. Experts predict with high confidence that this unique ecosystem which provides critical natural services for the biosphere (i.e. the global sum of all ecosystems and their functions) may become permanently altered as a result of warming temperatures. In Minnesota, the warmer climate is already changing wildlife habitats, damaging infrastructure, reducing outdoor air quality, and driving up home and crop insurance rates, according to the draft Framework.
As a consequence of the unique ecosystem, Minnesota has been a national leader in climate actions to halt the critical driver of climate change–greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)– since adoption of the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which sets statutory goals of GHG reduction. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has already conducted one of the nation's unique climate change-related geographic vulnerability assessments of the state at the county level. Nevertheless, Minnesota has missed its 2015 GHG reduction goal, and is on track to miss the 2025 and 2050 reduction milestones. This among other imperatives gave rise to the formation of the draft Framework. Comments and proposed amendments by the public are being accepted using submission surveys linked with each proposed Framework goal, as well as at [email protected].