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Massachusetts Department of Public Health seal Massachusetts Environmental Public Health Tracking

The information available on these climate change webpages supports efforts by local health and municipal partners to address the environmental and community health impacts of climate change.

There is widespread agreement among climate scientists that the climate is changing. Massachusetts is already experiencing the effects of climate change, from hotter summers and rising sea levels to more frequent severe weather events and inland flooding.

Climate impacts are predicted to:

  • increase the number of very hot days and degrade air quality
  • compromise infrastructure, homes and buildings
  • increase the risk of injuries and fatalities from storm events
  • increase the risk of food and drinking water contamination
  • increase vector-borne illnesses.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy show how extreme weather events and economic stress can negatively affect mental health by increasing the risk of anxiety, depression, and traumatization. Vulnerable populations — especially those with pre-existing health problems (e.g., asthma, cardiovascular disease), limited resources, and in close proximity to areas of greater risk (e.g., flood zones, living on the coast) — are most at risk for climate-related impacts.

Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report

Massachusetts has been leading the nation in addressing ways to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building a clean energy economy, and pro-actively preparing for the public health threats and challenges posed by a changing climate. In May 2009, the Secretary of Massachusetts' Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) created the Climate Change Advisory Committee, under the authority provided in the state's 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The GWSA requires limits on statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and a study to identify strategies to reduce climate-related impacts. The Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, completed in 2011, provides a road map for developing practical strategies to adapt to the predicted changes in climate across all major sectors of the Commonwealth. DPH/BEH was a key participant in this project. For more information, please access the full report at Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report.

The State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan

Cover of the Massachusetts State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan

In September 2016, Governor Baker signed an Executive Order 569 to provide further support for implementing the requirements of GWSA by Establishing An Integrated Climate Change Strategy For The Commonwealth. The Order requires the Secretaries of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Public Safety work together to (1) develop a framework for each Executive Office to assess its agencies’ vulnerability to climate change within one year, and identify adaptation options; (2) publish a Climate Adaptation Plan that includes a statewide adaptation strategy within two years; and (3) provide technical assistance to communities to help them prepare for climate change.

The State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan (SHMCAP) for the Commonwealth was adopted on September 17, 2018, in fulfillment of Executive Order 569. This plan, the first of its kind to comprehensively integrate climate change impacts and adaptation strategies with hazard mitigation planning, also complies with current federal requirements for state hazard mitigation plans and maintains the Commonwealth’s eligibility for federal disaster recovery and hazard mitigation funding under the Stafford Act. The plan was also submitted to FEMA for approval. DPH participated in the Project Management Team for the SHMCAP and provided support throughout the 2-year effort including assessing the climate vulnerability of DPH programs and operations, identifying vulnerable residents,  and assessing the health impacts of climate hazards. The SHMCAP also provides short- and long-term actions for state agencies and local communities to take to address climate impacts in Massachusetts, including health impacts.

For more information on EO 569, the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program, and the SHMCAP, please go to the resilient MA Climate Clearinghouse. The resilient MA Climate Clearinghouse also provides access to information on downscaled climate data, strategies to increase community resiliency, and links to important grant programs and technical assistance.

DPH’s Program to Strengthen Local Health Response to Climate Change

As reported in the MA Climate Change Adaptation Report, evidence indicates that the health effects of climate change will be most evident at the local level. While the public health infrastructure in Massachusetts is relatively well-established, climate change is expected to increase resource burdens for local health and municipal partners in effectively addressing the wide range of potential health impacts. To begin to support local health planning efforts, DPH established a Program to Strengthen Local Health Response to Climate Change

The initial phase of our effort supported by funds from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCs) Climate and Health Program was to assess the capacity of local health departments in Massachusetts to address the health impacts of climate change. The assessment found that there is an overall belief that local health departments throughout Massachusetts are unprepared and lack resources and/or expertise to adequately respond to extreme weather events and other climate-related health impacts. The assessment recommended that DPH support increased capacity, training, and technical assistance for local health departments and government officials to better integrate public health into planning, preparedness, and adaptation strategies at the local level. For more information on the statewide capacity survey, please access the Climate Change Final Report.

Tools for Implementing the BRACE Framework at the Community Level

graph of Building Resilience Against Climate Effects

Steps 1 and 2 of BRACE: Assessing Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities and Projecting Disease Burden

  • Climate and Health Pathways identify the links between climate hazards, risk factors, populations at risk, vulnerable infrastructure, systems, physical features, and near- and long-term health impacts of climate change
  • Vulnerability Assessment: provides more in-depth information at the community level on factors that influence vulnerability to the health effects of climate change. We have also developed the Vulnerability Mapping Tool that provides maps of the locations of residents and areas at greatest risk for climate-related health threats at the municipal and census tract level.

Step 3: Assessing Public Health Interventions (coming soon)

  • Identify and promote evidence-based interventions that draw upon recommendations in the MA Climate Change Adaptation Report. Adaptation strategies and public health "good practice" standards to reduce climate-related health impacts.

Step 4: Developing Tools to Support the Development and Implementation of Climate and Health Adaptation Plans

  • Promote the use of Health Impact Assessments (HIA) framework to implement climate action strategies at the municipal and regional levels in Massachusetts: DPHs Bureau of Environmental Health (BEH) is working with the Bureau of Community Health and Prevention to integrate HIA framework into adaptation planning process. To support this effort, we worked with local health departments in Springfield and Williamsburg and Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) to conduct a pilot HIA of regional climate action strategies in Western Massachusetts. Assessing the Health Impacts and Benefits of Regional Climate Action Plan Strategies in Western Massachusetts

Step 5: Evaluating Impact and Improving the Quality of Activities

  • DPH is currently devising an Implementation and Monitoring Strategy (IMS) to evaluate and improve our program activities. With the assistance and input from our stakeholders in local health and climate change preparedness, the IMS will allow us to track the impact of our activities and improve our support for climate planning by local public health departments.

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