The health consequences of climate change are considered by health experts to be one of the greatest global challenges for public health: Severe heat and extreme weather events, air pollution, and an increase in allergies – the list of negative effects is long. The significance of climate change for human health is also increasing in Germany.
Poorer People Suffer More due to Climate Change
Social inequalities play a major role globally, both in terms of the extent of exposure to climate change impacts and also in terms of sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Social inequalities in the material and social environment can influence biological sensitivity to the health effects of climate change impacts. For example, people living in poverty are exposed to chronic stress, which increases their sensitivity to climate change impacts. In addition, they do not have the material and social resources to adapt to changing climate conditions and the associated social and economic effects.
A team led by Professor Gabriele Bolte from the Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research at the University of Bremen and the WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Inequalities has compiled research findings from Germany on climate justice from a public health perspective for the first time. The conclusion:
Climate Issues Should Not Be Viewed in Isolation from Social Justice
"In Germany, the issue of climate justice is still not being sufficiently addressed," says Professor Gabriele Bolte. "By this I mean the avoidable, unjust social inequalities that occur in the frame of the health consequences of climate change and how these social inequalities in terms of their impact on health can be avoided through appropriate, targeted planning and implementation of climate protection and adaptation measures. Environmental and climate issues cannot be seen in isolation from issues of social justice."
The paper presents a model that can serve as a basis for the systematic analysis of the relationship between climate change impacts, social dimensions, adaptive capacities, biological vulnerability, and health equity. With reference to the international debate and evidence on climate justice, it identifies options for action and research needs for Germany.
"Many points can be addressed in order to improve climate justice: For example, when creating green urban areas to improve the urban climate as part of municipal climate adaptation strategies, care can be taken to ensure that all population groups benefit. Heat action plans as a central instrument of communities to protect human health from heat can be designed from the outset to reduce social disparities in heat exposure and health outcomes," explains Professor Gabriele Bolte.
The report has been published in the Journal of Health Monitoring as part of a series of 14 articles on climate change and health in Germany. As part of the KlimGesundAkt project funded by the Federal Ministry for Health, the Robert Koch Institute is coordinating an interdisciplinary network of experts to compile a comprehensive summary of the current evidence on climate change and health in Germany. The series of articles was published in the course of 2023 and represents an update and expansion of the content of the Assessment Report on Climate Change and Health from 2010.
The report is available free of charge on the Robert Koch Institute website (in German only):
Prof. Dr. Gabriele Bolte
Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research (IPP)
Department of Social Epidemiology
WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Inequalities
University of Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-68820
Email: gabriele.bolteprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de