Executive summary

Human effects on the environment now include unprecedented changes at the global level in the atmosphere and the stratosphere. Climatologists project that the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere will change the world's climate, and this has apparently already begun. Stratospheric ozone has been depleted in recent decades. The relationship between the two phenomena is complex, and new knowledge is emerging. Authoritative international reviews have concluded that these global...

Ozone depletion

The amount of ultraviolet radiation that may reach a given part of the earth's surface at any time is determined by a great variety of factors, including latitude, season, time of day, altitude, local atmospheric conditions (smog, cloudiness, haze, smoke, dust, fog, altitude and aerosol particles), variation in the thickness of the ozone layer and the angle of the sun above the horizon. Ultraviolet radiation may damage the skin and the eyes and influence the immune system (Table 5). The effects...

Mitigation to reduce or prevent climate change

Mitigation refers to actions that are taken to reduce the emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. Mitigation can be achieved in several ways. National and international policies (including those of the European Union) centre around reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Few policy measures address strategies to reduce the actual or projected effects of climate change. Scientific evidence linking greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities with the risk of global climate...

Skin cancer

Many epidemiological studies have implicated solar radiation as a cause of skin cancer (both melanotic and non-melanotic) in fair-skinned humans (146,147). Non-melanotic skin cancers are of two major histological types basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The risk of these cancers has generally been thought to correlate with cumulative lifetime exposure to solar radiation. Nevertheless, recent evidence suggests that the relationship is more complex. At least for basal cell...

Damage to the eye

The external epithelial layer of the eye, the cornea and conjunctiva, absorbs virtually all ultraviolet radiation with a wavelength of less than 290 nm. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation is known to cause damage to the eye's outer tissue. The condition most directly linked to ultraviolet radiation exposure is corneal photokeratitis (snow blindness). This is caused by acute exposure and is the ocular equivalent of sunburn. Chronic exposure to ultraviolet radiation is linked to...

Decreased mortality as a result of milder winters

In cold and temperate locations, the daily number of deaths increases as the daily wintertime temperature decreases (71,72). However, this rate of increase appears to be considerably less steep than the relationship between mortality and increasing temperature in the summer. Thus, countries in northern Europe have a clear seasonal variation in mortality, with death rates during the winter 10-25 higher than those in the summer (73). A study in Germany suggests that the increased use of central...

Secondary health benefits of mitigation policies

The ongoing negotiations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases present an important opportunity to improve population health. Many mitigation policies and technologies in Europe and beyond can have substantial near-term health benefits. Such win-win policies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide other social or environmental benefits. For example, restricting the circulation of private motor vehicles in urban areas would decrease the burden of mortality and morbidity from road...

Conclusions

Human-induced changes in the global climate system and in stratospheric ozone pose a range of health risks. Irrespective of actions that might soon be taken to reduce or halt these environmental changes, human populations will be exposed to some degree of climate change and increased ultraviolet irradiation over the coming decades. Climate change is likely to have wide-ranging and potentially serious health consequences, including various risks to the health of European populations. Some health...

Impact of climate change on water resources

Water is one of the main integrating factors for many environmental and economic systems in Europe. Under current climatic conditions, many areas have problems with water supply. Climate change is likely to enhance water-related stresses in these areas (8). Table 1. Assessment of European population at risk of a rise in sea level9 People affected People at risk'' Capital value loss sea level No-Percent- No' f Percent- Millions aqeof (metres) people ageQf people ageQf sands) total lands) total...

Stratospheric ozone depletion

Stratospheric ozone is thought to have begun forming several billion years ago as a result of the solar-powered destruction and recombination of oxygen. The natural concentration of stratospheric ozone is now maintained through the dynamic equilibrium existing between the production and destruction of ozone. The destruction is catalysed by trace amounts of hydrogen, nitrogen and halogen free radicals (especially chlorine and bromine). These free radicals occur naturally but, in recent decades,...

The immune system

There is good evidence both in humans and experimental animals that ultraviolet radiation causes local (that is, occurring only at the site of irradiation) and systemic immunosuppression. Although the mechanisms of ultraviolet radiation-induced immunosuppression are better understood, many questions remain to be answered. The consequences of immunosuppression for patterns of infectious disease in human populations are less clear. Cellular immunity and the activity of natural killer cells have...

Rise in sea level

Global eustatic sea level is forecast to rise by 13-94 cm by 2100 due to climate change (3). In Europe, the regions vulnerable to increased flooding include areas already close to or below mean sea level. Vulnerable regions include the coastline of the Netherlands the North Sea coast of Germany the Po River delta in Italy Areas with low intertidal variation are also more vulnerable to a rise in sea level. Such areas include the coastal zones of the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the...

Vectorborne diseases

Several important diseases are transmitted by vectors such as mosquitos, ticks or rodents. These vector organisms are sensitive to climatic conditions, especially temperature and humidity. Thus, the distribution of vector-borne diseases is restricted by the climatic tolerance limits of their vectors. Further, biological restrictions that limit the survival of the infective agent in the vector population also determine the absolute limits for disease transmission. Climate plays a role in...

Waterrelated diseases

Water-related diseases can be divided into four categories (105). Faecal-oral diseases can spread via water or food contaminated with faecal material. They include diseases transmitted by direct ingestion of the pathogen and those spread because of a lack of water for personal hygiene. Examples include cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and diarrhoeal diseases. Certain diseases that spread from one person to another can be exacerbated by lack of water for personal hygiene. These include infections...

Initiatives on climate change and human health

Growing awareness of climate change has stimulated several assessments of its likely effects on human population health. In particular, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has comprehensively reviewed the scientific literature on this topic in its Second Assessment Report (6,7) and the Third Assessment Report due out in 2001. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regional assessment also addressed the health effects for Europe (8). A task group convened by WHO, the World...

References

The role of the stratosphere in climate change. Surveys in geophysics, 14 133-165 (1993). 2. World Meteorological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Scientific assessment of ozone depletion 1994. Nairobi, United Nations Environment Programme, 1994 (WMO Report No. 37). 3. Houghton, J.T. et al., ed. Climate change 1995. The science of climate change....