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Climate Change

Did You Know?
Beginning in 2008, Massachusetts has made a significant commitment to climate action and clean energy with the passage of five legislative acts: the Global Warming Solutions Act, the Green Communities Act, the Green Jobs Act, the Clean Energy Biofuels Act, and the Oceans Management Act. Massachusetts is also committed to a "Leading by Example" approach to climate action, mandating that state agencies undertake energy efficiency improvements and incentivizing municipalities to do the same.

There is widespread agreement among climate scientists that the climate is changing. 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. 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 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; and 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.

In general, public health impacts from climate change are predicted to include increases in:

  • Number of residents experiencing heat stress
  • Exacerbation of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases
  • Exacerbation of asthma and allergies
  • Illnesses associated with degraded water quality
  • Geographic range and frequency of vector-borne diseases

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 to climate-related impacts. DPH/BEH is working with local health and municipal partners and other state and federal agencies to address the environmental and community health impacts of climate change. Below is a summary of ongoing efforts at DPH/BEH.

Massachusetts Climate Change Adaption Report

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). In addition to requiring targets to limit statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the GWSA recognized the need to assess and recommend strategies to reduce climate-related impacts. The Climate Change Advisory Committee was created to study strategies to adapt to climate change and make recommendations to mitigate future 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 and co-chaired the subcommittee on Health and Human Welfare along with the state Department of Environmental Protection. A full copy of the report may be found here.

Chapter 2 of the MA Climate Change Adaptation Report discusses the following climate changes predicted in Massachusetts:


Temperature change table
Source: Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Adaptation Advisory Committee.  (2011).  Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report.

The Human Health and Welfare chapter of the MA Climate Change Adaptation Report provides a wide range of short- and long-term adaptation strategies to protect human health from predicted climate-related impacts. Two key recommendations of the report are:

  1. Support for the improvement of our existing public health, health care, and local health infrastructure will be critical to our overall preparedness in addressing climate change effects and promotion of a strong, healthy and resilient state; and
  2. State, regional, and local public health officials could begin to conduct public health climate change planning to identify the most vulnerable populations, areas, and facilities. Some residents will be more susceptible to the effects of climate change, and adaptive change will be more difficult for them. Overall, the populations most vulnerable to adverse health impacts will be those with limited resources to take necessary protective and adaptive measures in advance of climate change and to recover after losses, as well as those already coping with chronic illnesses that will be aggravated by the expected changes.

Examples from the MA Climate Change Adaptation Report of potential short- and long-term adaptation strategies to reduce health impacts of projected climate effects are presented below.

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

As reported in the MA Climate Change Adaptation Report, while climate change is a global problem, evidence indicates that the health effects of climate change will be most evident at the local level. Although the public health infrastructure in Massachusetts is relatively well-established, climate change is expected to increase resource burdens associated with a wide range of potential health impacts. Expected health effects include heat stress, increased illnesses and death from exacerbation of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, increased vector-borne diseases, and increased incidence of infectious diseases from contaminated food and water. Local public health departments will need to enhance their capacity to prevent and address the increased incidence of diseases linked to environmental and climate change factors. This includes the development of new surveillance, prevention, and intervention mechanisms to promote strong, healthy and resilient communities. Consideration of vulnerable populations is important in terms of understanding population characteristics, conditions that could contribute to a disproportionate risk, and obstacles to resiliency. Children, the elderly, people with disabilities, low-income groups, and others should be specifically considered in any adaptive plan.

To address these needs, DPH/BEH established a Program to Strengthen Local Health Response to Climate Change. DPH/BEH's program is built upon two key activities to facilitate climate readiness in local health departments

  1. Assessing the Capacity to Address the Health Impacts of Climate Change by Local Health Departments in Massachusetts; and
  2. Implementing the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) Framework.

Assessing the Capacity to Address the Health Impacts of Climate Change by Local Health Departments in Massachusetts

Recognizing the critical need to adequately prepare for the health impacts of climate change, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) initiated the Climate Ready States and Cities Initiative (CRSCI) to better understand and support the needs of the states and cities to prepare for the health impact of climate change. DPH/BEH was one of twenty-three state and local health departments awarded cooperative agreements to conduct a capacity assessment of local boards of health across the Commonwealth

Cover for Massachusetts Cliamte Change Report

In 2013, DPH/BEH conducted a comprehensive survey to assess the capacity of local health departments to address climate change in Massachusetts. The survey collected information from local health officials on their perceptions and capacity to address climate change-related health risks; community's characteristics and baseline operations; emergency planning; and public communication systems. The major findings of the assessment were:

  • There is an overall belief that local health departments statewide are unprepared and under-resourced and/or lack the expertise to adequately respond to extreme weather events.
  • While health officials reported they are rarely contacted about heat waves, it is a climate change impact predicted to occur statewide. Many communities’ schools are designated emergency shelters but less than half have air conditioning.
  • About 37% of the communities surveyed indicated that their community had an initiative in place to mitigate the impacts of climate change; however, there is a need to coordinate local government officials and better integrate local public health in planning, preparedness, and adaptation strategies.
  • Overall findings of the survey suggest that the need to support increased capacity, training, and technical assistance for local health departments should be directed toward prevention of, and preparation for, specific health consequences.

The final report provides the results of the survey, as well as recommendations for adapting to climate change.  The final report is available here: Climate Change Final Report

Also, in 2013, DPH/BEH began to sponsor annual trainings for local health departments to address the effects of climate change in their community, one such example is available here: April 2013 Climate Change Symposium

Implementing CDC's BRACE (Building Resilience Against Climate Effects) Framework

Diagram showing the 5 steps in the BRACE framework CDC's BRACE framework provides guidance to states and cities to develop strategies and programs to prepare for the health implications of climate change. The BRACE framework is an evidence-based approach developed by CDC for public health agencies to develop health-based climate change adaptation strategies. The 5-step process of the BRACE framework incorporates an assessment of climate change impacts and vulnerability assessment (Step 1), the modeling of projected health impacts (Step 2), an evaluation of evidence-based public health intervention options (Step 3), developing and implementing an climate and health adaptation plan (Step 4), and systematic evaluation of ll activities in an iterative framework (Step 5).

 

To facilitate climate readiness in local health departments, DPH/BEH is :

  1. Collaborating Across Jurisdictions, Programs, and Organizations Focused on Climate Change:
  2. DPH/BEH is working with state agency partners through the Massachusetts GWSA Adaptation Subcommittee, local health departments, federal agencies, and new partners to support data/information sharing, joint training opportunities, and joint communication strategies.

  3. Developing climate adaptation toolkits for local health planning efforts that contain the following:
    • Climate profiles for the region that the municipality is located;
    • Population vulnerability maps at the municipal and census tract level that identify the locations and population groups at greatest risk for specific health threats;
    • Baseline health status of the community from the EPHT portal and information on potential health burdens from climate impacts;
    • Evidence-based interventions that draw upon MA Climate Change Adaptation Report. Adaptation strategies and public health "good practice" standards;
    • Tools and approaches for adaptation planning at the local level
  4. Sponsoring trainings for local health departments to prepare for climate effects in their community:
  5. Promoting the Use of Health Impact Assessments (HIA) of Climate Action Plans:
  6. DPH/BEH worked with the Bureau of Community Health and Prevention to conduct an HIA of regional climate action strategies in Western Massachusetts.

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