Climate Change and Respiratory Health

Current Evidence and Knowledge Gaps

Tim K Takaro; Kim Knowlton; John R Balmes


Expert Rev Resp Med. 2013;7(4):349-361. 

In This Article


Human induced climate change has begun and is accelerating. Effects on respiratory health are being felt around the world, but are not evenly distributed. Populations in low-resource countries are experiencing greater impacts and have less capacity to adapt in the future. Respiratory effects range from direct heat and air pollution effects, to changes in the biological burden of allergens and shifting infectious disease patterns. Climate driven refugees are increasing and are often forced to live under conditions that promote respiratory infections. Mitigation of GHGs to reduce future impacts is crucial, but adaptation to the inevitable increases in temperature will also be required. Much of this activity has co-benefits for health beyond those directly related to climate change such as increased physical activity and shifts to cleaner fuels. Support for adaptation in low resource countries is a moral imperative to which wealthy nations have committed through the UN response to climate change. Such adaptation can lead to improvements in respiratory health and deserve support. The socio-political, ecological, ethical, technical and human health challenges posed by climate change will test our capabilities as a species for generations to come.