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Social challenges

Health

Doctor holding out stethescope with focus on object © Wavebreak Media

Climate change is a significant threat not only to human health but also to animal and plant health. While a changing climate might not create many new or unknown health threats, existing effects will be exacerbated and more pronounced then currently seen.

The most important health effects from future climate change are projected to include:

  1. Increases in summer heat-related mortality (deaths) and morbidity (illness);
  2. Decreases in winter cold-related mortality (deaths) and morbidity (illness);
  3. Increases in the risk of accidents and impacts on wider well-being from extreme weather events (floods, fires and storms);
  4. Changes in the disease burden e.g. from vector-, rodent-, water- or food-borne disease;
  5. Changes in the seasonal distribution of some allergenic pollen species, range of virus, pest and disease distribution;
  6. Emerging and re-emerging animal diseases increasing challenges to European animal and human health by viral zoonotic diseases and vector-borne diseases;      
  7. Emerging and re-emerging plant pests (insect, pathogens and other pests) and diseases affecting forest and crop systems;
  8. Risks in relation to change in air quality and ozone.

Vulnerable population

People living in low income urban areas with poor infrastructure, and, generally speaking, population groupswith lower incomes and assets are more exposed to climate impacts but have less capacity to face them.

Women may be disproportionately impacted by climate change and are at a disadvantage when expensive adaptation measures are required. At the same time, women are key actors in adaptation and more generally sustainable practices.

Unemployed and socially marginalised people are among the most vulnerable to climate risks.

Europe's ageing population, disproportionately affected by reduced mobility or health impediments, will result in a higher share of the population being vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Climate change has also already started to have an impact on displacement and migration.

Employment

The impact of temperature increases, changes in precipitation regimes or sea-level rise will affect – directly or indirectly – the productivity and viability of nearly all economic sectors in all EU Member States, with labour market implications.

Climate change may affect workforce availability due to a decrease in the health conditions of the population and additional occupational health constraints (higher temperature at work, more frequent and intense natural hazards keeping people from reaching their work place).

Moreover, several economic sectors are highly vulnerable because of their dependence on regular climate conditions. Sectoral production shifts – in agriculture and tourism for instance – are expected as a consequence of climate change.

Major investments in adaptation could offer employment and income opportunities in activities such as reinforcing coastal defences, buildings and (green) infrastructure, water management and relocation of exposed settlements. Yet, uncertainty remains regarding the possible net job creation effects of such investments. Labour skills upgrading will be necessary to grasp these opportunities.

Education

Reducing vulnerability and implementing adaptation measures is not only the task and responsibility of governments. The severity of climate change requires public and private actors to work together in reducing vulnerability and adapting to the impacts. However, not all stakeholders are aware and informed about their vulnerability and the measures they can take to pro-actively adapt to climate change. Education and awareness-raising is therefore an important component of the adaptation process to manage the impacts of climate change, enhance adaptive capacity, and reduce overall vulnerability.