Skip Navigation
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

Https

The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Your Environment. Your Health.

Human Health Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change impacts human health in both direct and indirect ways1,2. Extreme heat waves, rising sea level, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and droughts, and intense hurricanes can directly cause injury, illness, and even death3. The effects of climate change can also indirectly affect health through alterations to the environment. For example, worsening air pollution levels can have negative impacts on respiratory and cardiovascular conditions4. Changes in temperature and rainfall can alter the survival, distribution, and behavior of insects and other species that can lead to changes in infectious diseases5. Increases in precipitation, storm surge, and sea temperature can lead to more water-related illnesses6. Climate change can also affect food safety, exposing people to contaminated foods that can result in foodborne illnesses7. In addition, climate change can affect mental health and well-being8,9.

Conceptual diagram illustrating the exposure pathways by which climate change affects human health. Here, the center boxes list some selected examples of the kinds of changes in climate drivers, exposure, and health outcomes explored in this report. Exposure pathways exist within the context of other factors that positively or negatively influence health outcomes (gray side boxes). Some of the key factors that influence vulnerability for individuals are shown in the right box, and include social determinants of health and behavioral choices. Some key factors that influence vulnerability at larger scales, such as natural and built environments, governance and management, and institutions, are shown in the left box. All of these influencing factors can affect an individual’s or a community’s vulnerability through changes in exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity and may also be affected by climate change.
Figure 1: Conceptual diagram illustrating the exposure pathways by which climate change affects human health. (Graphic courtesy of GlobalChange.gov)

Exposure to climate-related hazards can include biological, chemical, or physical stressors and can differ in time, locations, populations, and severity. These are referred to as exposure pathways. These threats can occur simultaneously, resulting in compounding health impacts. Climate change threats may also accumulate over time, leading to longer-term changes in resilience and health.

Climate change can affect human health by changing the severity, duration, or frequency of health problems and by creating unprecedented or unanticipated health problems or health threats in places or populations where they have not previously occurred10. While everyone is exposed to climate-related health threats, not everyone experiences the same harms. Individuals may experience greater risk from climate-related health effects because: they have greater exposure to climate-related hazards; they are more sensitive to the effects of climate stressors; their own present state of health and wellbeing; or they do not have sufficient capacity or resources to cope or remove themselves from harm11. An effective public health response to mitigate the risks of climate change is essential to preventing injuries and illnesses and enhancing overall public health preparedness.

NIEHS supports research that can be used to make decisions that can help reduce the threats of climate change. In the 2016 report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health: A Scientific Assessment, the Interagency Working Group on Climate Change and Health describes seven different types of health threats that help outline the major research areas. These include the following:

The diagram shows specific examples of how climate change can affect human health, now and in the future. These effects could occur at local, regional, or national scales. The examples listed in the first column are those described in each underlying chapter’s exposure pathway diagram (see Guide to the Report). Moving from left to right along one health impact row, the three middle columns show how climate drivers affect an individual’s or a community’s exposure to a health threat and the resulting change in health outcome. The overall climate impact is summarized in the final gray column. For a more comprehensive look at how climate change affects health, and to see the environmental, institutional, social, and behavioral factors that play an interactive role in determining health outcomes, see the exposure pathway diagrams in chapters 2–8.
Figure 2: The diagram shows specific examples of how climate change can affect human health, now and in the future. (Graphic courtesy of GlobalChange.gov)

  1. Ebi K.L, Balbus JM, Luber G, Bole A, Crimmins A, Glass G, Saha S, Shimamoto MM, Trtanj J, and White-Newsome JL. 2018: Human Health. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 539–571. doi: 10.7930/NCA4. 2018. CH14. [Full Text Ebi K.L, Balbus JM, Luber G, Bole A, Crimmins A, Glass G, Saha S, Shimamoto MM, Trtanj J, and White-Newsome JL. 2018: Human Health. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 539–571. doi: 10.7930/NCA4. 2018. CH14.]
  2. IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press. [Full Text IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.]
  3. IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press. [Full Text IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.]
  4. Mills, Nicholas L., et al. Adverse cardiovascular effects of air pollution. Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine 6.1 (2009): 36-44. [Full Text Mills, Nicholas L., et al. Adverse cardiovascular effects of air pollution. Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine 6.1 (2009): 36-44.]
  5. Hunter, Paul R. Climate change and waterborne and vector‐borne disease. Journal of Applied Microbiology 94 (2003): 37-46. [Full Text Hunter, Paul R. Climate change and waterborne and vector‐borne disease. Journal of Applied Microbiology 94 (2003): 37-46.]
  6. Rose, Joan B., et al. Climate variability and change in the United States: potential impacts on water-and foodborne diseases caused by microbiologic agents. Environmental Health Perspectives 109.suppl 2 (2001): 211-221. [Full Text Rose, Joan B., et al. Climate variability and change in the United States: potential impacts on water-and foodborne diseases caused by microbiologic agents. Environmental Health Perspectives 109.suppl 2 (2001): 211-221.]
  7. Lake, Iain R., et al. A re-evaluation of the impact of temperature and climate change on foodborne illness. Epidemiology & Infection 137.11 (2009): 1538-1547. [Full Text Lake, Iain R., et al. A re-evaluation of the impact of temperature and climate change on foodborne illness. Epidemiology & Infection 137.11 (2009): 1538-1547.]
  8. Cissé, G., R. McLeman, H. Adams, P. Aldunce, K. Bowen, D. Campbell-Lendrum, S. Clayton, K.L. Ebi, J. Hess, C. Huang, Q. Liu, G. McGregor, J. Semenza, and M.C. Tirado, 2022: Health, Wellbeing, and the Changing Structure of Communities. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press. [Full Text Cissé, G., R. McLeman, H. Adams, P. Aldunce, K. Bowen, D. Campbell-Lendrum, S. Clayton, K.L. Ebi, J. Hess, C. Huang, Q. Liu, G. McGregor, J. Semenza, and M.C. Tirado, 2022: Health, Wellbeing, and the Changing Structure of Communities. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.]
  9. Benevolenza MA, DeRigne L. 2019. The impact of climate change and natural disasters on vulnerable populations: A systematic review of literature, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. 29:2, 266-281. [Abstract Benevolenza MA, DeRigne L. 2019. The impact of climate change and natural disasters on vulnerable populations: A systematic review of literature, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. 29:2, 266-281.]
Back
to Top