ESSP launches project on the effects of global environmental change on human health

(Beijing, 10 November 2006) -- The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) today launched a new research initiative on "Global Environmental Change and Human Health (GECHH)". The project, co-sponsored by the World Health Organisation, aims to create an international network of researchers who can identify and quantify health risks posed by global environmental change, and develop adaptation strategies that are cost effective for reducing health risks.

"Population health is a crucial bottom-line indicator of the impacts of global environmental change on human societies," said Anthony McMichael, co-chair of the new project. "Our project's challenge is to understand how environmental conditions and large-scale changes--especially at the global level--influence and perhaps determine the health outcomes for whole communities and populations over a long time frame," he said.

According to the World Health Organisation, climate and land-use changes are responsible for putting an estimated 40 percent of the world population at risk of contracting malaria, as well as placing 840 million people at risk of malnutrition. A further 1 to 2 billion people living in mid to high latitudes face a higher risk of skin cancer and immune system depression due to depletion of stratospheric ozone.

"Global environmental changes constitute a major new category of health hazard, arising predominantly from human-induced systemic changes to the natural systems and processes that underpin health and life," said Dr. McMichael, adding, "The GECHH project will form a new, dynamic and integrative node in the developing domain of Earth System Science, and will help focus on policy options that ensure a healthier and more sustainable future."

The GECHH is being developed as a logical complement to the three ongoing ESSP projects addressing the global carbon cycle (Global Carbon Project, GCP), the global water system (Global Water System Project, GWSP), and global food systems (Global Environmental Change and Food Systems, GECAFS). Changes in each of those systems influence, via diverse pathways, human wellbeing and health as well as societal sustainability.

The co-chairs of the Health Project are Anthony McMichael with the National Centre of Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, and Ulisses Confalonieri with the National School of Public Health, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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ESSP is a joint initiative of four global environmental change research programmes: DIVERSITAS, the international programme of biodiversity science, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). For more information, visit the website at www.essp.org.

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