Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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A climate of panic in the hillsides


THE long-awaited Health Impact Assessment Summary Report on Climate Change in Wales has just been published. I referred to it in a previous piece in TCW about the ‘Triple Challenge’ facing Wales, viz the cumulative and individual impact of Brexit, Covid-19 and climate change on health, wellbeing and equity.

The foreword by Dr Sumina Azam suggests that Public Health Wales has heard that ‘taking action on climate change is a priority for the public’. There is no indication of where in the pecking order of priorities (such as the cost of living crisis or the NHS crisis) addressing climate change lies, but nevertheless this Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a ‘systematic evidence-based public health approach to consider the impact of policies and plans on health and well-being’ in relation to climate change.

The summary of findings and potential actions suggests that climate change will affect nutrition, food security, community resilience, displacement of people, access to healthcare, damage to housing, transport and infrastructure, water supply and the economy.

Its impacts will be multi-faceted and will be compounded by the Triple Challenge in addition to the cost of living crisis – so a Quadruple Challenge awaits us. Mental wellbeing is also at stake, according to the HIA, but perhaps our mental processes with be otherwise engaged with the nudging of the Behavioural Science Unit set up by the International Health Coordination Centre in Wales in May 2022.

Indeed, the opening summary mentions ‘targeted communications and education’, including ‘applying behavioural science’ and advocating ‘non-biased high-quality teaching materials on climate change’ for schools.

The introduction states that the context for the Health Impact Assessment is informed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) amongst others. We are told that climate change will likely see an increase in vector-borne pathogens and the HIA includes a table of population groups who are more vulnerable and disproportionately affected by climate change e.g. ‘pregnant women’ (not pregnant people, thankfully). It is unclear to what extent twenty odd years of Welsh Labour has had upon the mental wellbeing of people in Wales.

Listed also are possible impacts upon determinants of health such as alcohol and substance misuse (climate events may lead to more people self-medicating) and violence, since ‘international peer reviewed research’ has shown that climate change/extreme weather events can lead to increased conflict and violence.

Opportunities and positive impacts of climate change adaptation and mitigation include reducing emissions and improving energy efficiency of homes (decarbonisation of homes). The latter, it is claimed, will reduce fuel poverty – claims to the contrary must simply be untrue – and will reduce cold-related morbidity and mortality. So a reduced need for taking an annual flu jab, perhaps?

Under the subheading of ‘health equity and social and environmental justice’ we are given the definition of climate injustice, and for good measure we are introduced to procedural justice, environmental justice, intergenerational justice, social justice and distributional justice. Quite what this all means, I really couldn’t tell you.

Democracy and public participation in climate adaptation will be good for health and wellbeing, but belief and commitment to the cause will be a prerequisite to involvement, it would appear. One example of ‘good practice’ to date is Climate Ready Gwent, a group which explores ‘lived experience’ of climate change.

Results shared in this HIA from a survey in Wales are as follows:

·         82 per cent of adults aged over 16 in Wales are fairly or very concerned about climate change

·         Six in ten (61 per cent) adults aged over 16 in Wales believe that climate change is already having an impact in Wales

·         47 per cent of adults aged over 16 in Wales report flooding in their local area in the last five years and 20 per cent report ill health from extreme weather

·         56 per cent think that risks to people’s health from climate change are already occurring

·         Over half of people (56 per cent) think that the effects of climate change on the health of people in Wales would be mostly negative

However, slightly encouraging is the reported 32 per cent of people of Wales who agree with the statement that the media exaggerates the impact of climate change.

The HIA ‘areas for action’ include public involvement via communications and education, applying behavioural science and ‘empowering all citizens’. The latter should especially include young people which is ‘central to the UN Framework Convention Action on Climate Empowerment’. Positive aspects should be emphasised – better health from ‘active travel’, practical skills such as repair and local food growing. Although poorer soil quality and less water is predicted, which might negate these positives.

The conclusion states that climate change is not an isolated phenomenon and is linked to other planetary systems such as biodiversity, water cycles, land use and ‘pandemics such as Covid-19’. Its summary table of impacts and infographics include some curious contradictions. For example, for both alcohol and substance misuse and for violence the table shows that ‘no evidence for Wales is identified’. The infographics include the statistic that by the 2050s sea level is projected to rise by 22cm, which raises the question of why is this Nation of Sanctuary welcoming asylum seekers/migrants to ‘rebuild their lives’ here when climate catastrophe is around the corner? Surely it would be kinder – and cheaper – to communicate this Health Impact Assessment to them and gently send them on their way?

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Nicola Lund
Nicola Lund
Nicola is a former teacher, and now a part time carer with a diploma in journalism . Her Twitter handle is @MrsLund1.. Her Substack page, the ‘Welsh Economic Forum’ can be read here.

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