Health impacts of climate change and mitigation policies in Ireland

July 10, 2024
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Recognition of the need to limit climate change has led countries to sign up to concerted efforts to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These efforts culminated in the ratification of the Paris Agreement by Ireland and 196 other countries in 2015. This agreement, and the subsequent Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act of 2021, commit Ireland to a GHG emissions reduction goal of at least 55 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. 

These commitments to reduce GHG emissions through various Climate Action Plans will have considerable economic and societal ramifications, including on population health. For EU countries, the health implications of climate change are estimated to be extensive, while climate change may impede the sustainability of healthcare service provision. The changing climate, predicted to intensify, can exacerbate health impacts, especially in vulnerable demographic groups such as children, older people, and individuals with chronic diseases. However, in addition to the direct benefits for health from emission reductions (e.g., from fewer extreme weather events), emission reduction policies may also have co-benefits for health, e.g., the shift to more bicycle-based commuting through increased cycle lanes or the switch to lower meat consumption can help reduce emissions and improve health outcomes. Despite the growing evidence on the link between increasing temperatures, and likely emission reduction target policies, on health, little evidence exists on the health effects of climate change and associated mitigation actions in an Irish context. 

The aim of this report is to contribute to the understanding of the link between climate change and health by examining the impact of temperature changes on health and healthcare utilisation in Ireland. While there are multiple dimensions of climate change that may affect health (e.g., increasing temperature, increased precipitation, wildfires, etc.), temperature change is considered one of the principal health threats facing Ireland with respect to climate change. First the report undertakes an in-depth review of the literature on the link between temperature change and health, focusing on evidence from other regions with moderate climates that are similar to Ireland. It also provides an overview of the literature that has assessed the health benefits and co-benefits of climate change mitigation action. Second, the report utilises Met Éireann temperature data to develop Irish climate projections based on simulations performed by the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC). Next, the research examines the impact of increases in temperature on use of emergency in-patient hospital care in Ireland. Finally, the report also outlines some of the potential health benefits and co-benefits of climate change mitigation actions, in Ireland.