NIEHS and other federal staff participated in recent meetings to advance research exploring the human health impacts of climate change. The U.S. Global Change Research Program’s annual meeting focused on national climate change priorities and highlighted human health. At NIEHS, a special meeting of the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council focused on new planning for climate change and health research at NIH.
U.S. Global Change Research Program 2021 Annual Meeting and Interagency Coordination of Climate Change Activities
Staff from federal agencies, including NIEHS and NIH, gathered for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP) annual meeting held October 26 and 27. This meeting provided an opportunity to showcase federal coordination on climate change and to strengthen interagency partnerships to move the work forward.
Eric Lander, D.Phil., the president’s science advisor and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, opened as the first keynote speaker, followed by Gina McCarthy, M.S., the White House national climate advisor. Both speakers focused on themes of strong federal engagement, collaboration, clear science, and effective science communication. They view the upcoming 5th National Climate Assessment (NCA5) as an opportunity to generate national engagement around the topic of climate change.
The National Climate Assessment is a report mandated by Congress to summarize the impacts of climate change on the U.S. The GCRP will host a series of public engagement workshops in the coming months to seek input for the report.
Global Climate Discussions Move to Include Health and Research
World leaders, activists, scientists, and climate experts convened in Glasgow, Scotland, October 31 - November 12, for the 26th United Nations Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26).
During the meeting, HHS Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine announced the U.S. will join the COP26 Health Programme, an initiative to develop low-carbon, climate resilient health systems and bolster adaptation research.
Under this initiative, countries announced their commitments to reduce the effects of climate change. More than 50 countries pledged to develop climate resilient and sustainable health systems.
The climate summit concluded on November 12 with new climate actions specified in the Glasgow Climate Pact.
NIEHS staff actively participate in the Interagency Crosscutting Group on Climate Change and Human Health and will support the development of NCA5 chapters related to human health. During the meeting, this group shared their research goals and solicited feedback from attendees.
“NIEHS is excited to play a pivotal role in the expansion of work on climate change and health along with other member agencies,” said Trisha Castranio, program manager of the NIEHS Global Environmental Health program. “The opportunity to launch more initiatives, create opportunities for collaboration, and highlight the transdisciplinary approaches to tackle this crisis are long overdue. We look forward to the work ahead and encourage others to join us.”
The annual meeting highlighted progress in developing a 10- year strategic plan to coordinate a national research program “which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.”
Opportunity for public comment on the plan is open until January 11, 2022.
Climate and Health at NIEHS
NIEHS and other NIH staff have spent much of the year developing plans to expand climate change and health research. Those efforts were formally unveiled November 29 at a special session of the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council to introduce and request approval of the NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative.
The impetus for this plan is Executive Order 14008 , issued by President Biden in January 2021, which directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “to identify, understand, and address impacts of climate change on people’s health, emphasizing greater health equity among populations of concern.”
Consistent with the objectives of this order, NIEHS began to develop an NIH framework on climate and health research. This effort is headed by an executive committee of seven NIH institutes and centers that provide leadership for the NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative:
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- Fogarty International Center
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities
- National Institute of Nursing Research
During the council session, Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS Population Health Branch, presented the NIH Climate Change and Health concept and summarized the proposed research framework. The framework outlines a sustainable NIH model to support transdisciplinary climate change and health research. The NIH Climate Change and Health initiative will focus on strategies to expand scientific knowledge and implement solutions-based action on the current and emerging effects of climate change on health.
Thompson noted that the framework contains key goals including:
- Promoting collaboration among researchers and with other federal agencies and research organizations.
- Promoting the best science and most impactful interventions, with an emphasis on health equity and community-engaged research.
- Strengthening capacity for climate and health research at home and abroad.
- Supporting a pipeline of climate change and health research workforce.
The meeting concluded with broad support from council members for the initiative. Moving forward, this approval allows NIH to begin to develop funding opportunities for research that aims to reduce climate-related health threats and build climate resilience in individuals and communities.