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Climate Change Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X)

Public Health Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change

A man wiping sweat from his faceAs the world’s average temperature gets warmer, some areas are already experiencing an increase in the number of extremely hot days, and scientists expect severe heat waves to become more frequent and more intense in the future. 

The adaptation strategies provided below are illustrative of possible ways communities can address anticipated, current, and future climate threats to public health.

These strategies use a five-step process from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) program that allows health officials to develop strategies and programs to help communities prepare for the health effects of climate change.

On this page:

Public Health Adaptation Strategies

Case study available = Case Study available
 

Extreme Heat

  • Raising AwarenessCase study available

    Outreach and education can help build awareness of heat island risks and establish a foundation for action.

    A city or county council, or organizations such as air quality boards or planning commissions, can issue resolutions, a public statement documenting a group’s awareness of and interest in an effort, such as a heat island mitigation. A resolution does not necessarily indicate that a program will be supported financially, but it can be the first step in getting an initiative started.

  • Providing Incentives and AwardsCase study available

    Incentives & awards from governments, utilities, and other organizations can be an effective way to spur individual heat island reduction actions. Incentives might include below-market loans, tax breaks, product rebates, grants, and giveaways. Awards can rewarded exemplary work, highlight innovation, and promote solutions across the public and private sectors.

  • Establishing Urban Forestry, Tree, and Landscape ProgramsCase study available

    Urban forestry or tree planting programs exist in most large cities and counties in the United States. These programs generally have broad goals that emphasize the multiple benefits trees can provide, including helping to cool cities. Moreover, many states give grants to communities and organizations that promote or maintain urban forests.

    Many local governments have enacted tree and landscape ordinances, which can ensure public safety, protect trees or views, and provide shade. Three types of ordinances, in particular, are most useful from a heat island perspective: tree protection, street trees, and parking lot shade.

  • Retrofitting Public Buildings

    Many local governments interested in mitigating heat islands started by procuring cool technologies for municipal buildings. Since state and local governments usually put construction work and material supplies out for bid, they can revise bid specifications to include cool products.

  • Setting Policy, Planning, Design, and Building Standards and CodesCase study available

    Local and state governments can add urban heat island mitigation strategies in policies or regulations, ranging from purchasing guidelines to building codes. A number of these actions have helped remove barriers or provide incentives for implementing mitigation strategies. Others have prescribed minimum requirements, especially for new construction.

    Comprehensive plans and design guidelines
    Comprehensive plans, sometimes called general plans in California and other states, are adopted by a legislative body of a local government, and set forth policies, goals, and objectives to direct development and conservation that occurs within its planning jurisdiction. They generally have a broad scope and long-term vision. Design guidelines provide a connection between general planning policies and implementing regulations, such as zoning codes and subdivision regulations. Design guidelines convey a sense of the preferred quality for a place by being descriptive and suggestive.

    Zoning codes
    These regulations generally dictate function for an area, building height and bulk, population density, and parking requirements. Zoning codes can also promote heat island mitigation strategies in various ways. For example, cities such as Sacramento have adopted parking lot shading requirements as part of their zoning codes.

    Green building codes and standards
    Green building initiatives place a high priority on human and environmental health and resource conservation over the life cycle of a building. Many local, state, and federal governments have adopted green building programs, or standards, that capture heat island reduction strategies.

    Building codes
    Building codes are regulations adopted by local and state governments that establish standards for construction, modification, and repair of buildings and other structures. An energy code is a portion of the building code that relates to energy usage and conservation requirements and standards. Some cities and states have begun including cool roofing in their building codes because of its potential to save energy, particularly during peak loads.

    Weatherization programs
    Weatherization usually involves making the homes of qualifying residents, generally low-income families, more energy efficient at no cost to the residents. States use weatherization funds provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program to help recipients cover heating bills and invest in energy efficiency actions that lower costs. States can also use the funds to install cooling efficiency measures, such as screening and shading devices.

  • Including Extreme Heat Concerns in Air Quality Improvement Plans

    As summertime temperatures rise, the rate of ground-level ozone formation, or smog, increases. By lowering temperatures, urban heat island mitigation strategies can help reduce ground-level ozone concentrations. Many cities and counties are struggling to attain national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), particularly for ground level ozone. Most of these areas have adopted a wide range of emission control strategies on traditional air pollution sources and are seeking innovative ways to further reduce air pollution levels. Communities are considering urban forestry and cool roofs, in particular, as technologies that can help them reach attainment.

Water Quality & Public Health

Anticipate Climate Impacts and Assessing Vulnerabilities
Identify the scope of climate impacts to water quality and the associated potential health outcomes, specifically on vulnerable populations.

  • Anticipate Climate Impacts

    Review the National Climate Assessment to better understand regional projections of climate risk

    Climate change may cause a broad range of water quality-based public health concerns. Review the National Climate Assessment to better understand regional climate threats and potential climate risks. For a more in-depth analysis, utilize appropriate tools or expert assistance to downscale climate projections and better assess the anticipated range of climate risks for your community. Depending upon location and expected climate impacts the National Climate Assessment’s 2016 Climate and Health Assessment Report identifies these key climate risks:

    • Seasonal and Geographic Changes in Waterborne Illness Risk
      • Changing water temperatures may mean that waterborne Vibrio bacteria and harmful algal toxins will be present in the water at different times of the year, or in places where they were not previously threats.
    • Extreme Precipitation Events Increasing Exposure Risk
      • Waterborne pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia); toxins produced by harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms in the water may all be exacerbated by increased runoff, warmer temperatures and discharges from point sources of pollution.
    • Extreme Weather Leading to Water Infrastructure Failure
      • Extreme weather events and storm surges will increase the risk that drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure will fail due to either damage or exceedance of system capacity. As a result, the risk of exposure to water-related pathogens, chemicals, and algal toxins will increase in receiving waters and, when that enters source waters may complicate drinking water treatment efforts.
  • Assess Vulnerabilities
    • Model anticipated climate changes to better understand expected climate vulnerabilities to water quality conditions.
    • Work with water utilities and water resource managers to better assess expected performance of infrastructure and natural systems under changing climate conditions.
    • Identify populations and communities that may be more vulnerable to these impacts due to existing vulnerabilities, such as pre-existing health concerns, sensitive life stages etc., or due to behavior, such as vulnerable locations used for swimming or fishing.
    • Monitor current conditions to better evaluate baselines and inform future projections.

    Public health officials may benefit from collaborating with water utilities, water resource managers and public health officials to better assess public health needs and vulnerability. After identifying and assessing potential vulnerability, officials can collaborate with these partners to properly project the disease burden, assess public health intervention strategies, and develop a climate and health adaptation plan. In order to adapt to changing conditions, public health officials may want to work with air quality managers and other officials to explore potential Water Management strategies that can help reduce the affect climate changes have on public health.

Air Quality & Public Health

Anticipate Climate Impacts and Assessing Vulnerabilities
Identify the scope of climate impacts to air quality and the associated potential health outcomes, specifically on vulnerable populations.

  • Anticipate Climate Impacts

    Review the National Climate Assessment to better understand regional projections of climate risk

    Climate change may cause a broad range of air quality-based public health concerns. Review the National Climate Assessment to better understand regional climate threats and potential climate risks. For a more in-depth analysis, utilize appropriate tools or expert assistance to downscale climate projections and better assess the anticipated range of climate risks for your community. Depending upon location and expected climate impacts the National Climate Assessment’s 2016 Climate and Health Assessment Report identifies these key climate risks:

    • Exacerbated Ozone Health Impacts
      • Climate change will make it harder for any given regulatory approach to reduce ground-level ozone pollution in the future as meteorological conditions become increasingly conducive to forming ozone over most of the United States. Unless offset by additional emissions reductions, these climate-driven increases in ozone will cause premature deaths, hospital visits, lost school days, and acute respiratory symptoms.
    • Increased Health Impacts from Wildfires
      • Wildfires emit fine particles and ozone precursors that in turn increase the risk of premature death and adverse chronic and acute cardiovascular and respiratory health outcomes. Climate change is projected to increase the number and severity of naturally occurring wildfires in parts of the United States, increasing emissions of particulate matter and ozone precursors and resulting in additional adverse health outcomes.
    • Worsened Allergy and Asthma Conditions
      • Changes in climate, specifically rising temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, are expected to contribute to increasing levels of some airborne allergens and associated increases in asthma episodes and other allergic illnesses.
      • Worsen existing indoor air problems and create new problems by altering outdoor conditions that affect indoor conditions and by creating more favorable conditions for the growth and spread of pests, infectious agents, and disease vectors that can migrate indoors. Climate change can also lead to changes in the mixing of outdoor and indoor air. Reduced mixing of outdoor and indoor air limits penetration of outdoor pollutants into the indoors, but also leads to higher concentrations of pollutants generated indoors since their dilution by outdoor air is decreased.
  • Assess Vulnerabilities
    • Model future development to anticipate future air quality concerns from ozone. Incorporate future growth patterns and collaborate with transportation officials, air quality managers, state officials and industry to better assess expected performance of regulatory standards under changing climate conditions.
    • Analyze current wildfire management capabilities and monitoring efforts. Model expected conditions and anticipate potential future wildfire events to better understand the range of predicted emissions of particulate matter.
    • Determine current vulnerability to wildfires or ozone by assessing location-based vulnerabilities, such as extent of urban heat island or location near extensive forest or rangeland.
    • Monitor current conditions to better evaluate baselines and inform future projections.
    • Identify populations and communities that may be more vulnerable to these impacts due to existing vulnerabilities, such as pre-existing health concerns, sensitive life stages etc., or due to behavior, such as individuals who spend extensive time outdoors due to profession or trade.

    Public health officials may benefit from working with transportation officials, air quality managers, state officials and industry to better assess public health needs and vulnerability. After identifying and assessing potential vulnerability, officials can collaborate with these partners to properly project the disease burden, assess public health intervention strategies, and develop a climate and health adaptation plan. In order to adapt to changing conditions, public health officials may want to work with air quality managers and other officials to explore potential Air Quality strategies that can help reduce the affect climate changes have on public health.

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CDC Building Resilience Against Climate Effects

CDC’s Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) frameworkCDC’s Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework is a five-step process that allows health officials to develop strategies and programs to help communities prepare for the health effects of climate change.  (Click image to view larger version)

Five Steps

  1. Anticipate Climate Impacts and Assessing Vulnerabilities
    Identify the scope of climate impacts, associated potential health outcomes, and populations and locations vulnerable to these health impacts.
  2. Project the Disease Burden
    Estimate or quantify the additional burden of health outcomes associated with climate change.
  3. Assess Public Health Interventions
    Identify the most suitable health interventions for the identified health impacts of greatest concern.
  4. Develop and Implement a Climate and Health Adaptation Plan
    Develop a written adaptation plan that is regularly updated. Disseminate and oversee implementation of the plan.
  5. Evaluate Impact and Improve Quality of Activities
    Evaluate the process. Determine the value of information attained and activities undertaken.
    Learn more about the BRACE framework from CDC’s Website.

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Source Documents

These strategies are adapted from existing EPA, CDC and other federal resources. Please view these strategies in the context provided by the primary source documents:

Other Federal Resources:

Other potential adaptation strategies are available from industry organizations, including:

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Disclaimer

The adaptation strategies provided are intended to inform and assist communities in identifying potential alternatives. They are illustrative and are presented to help communities consider possible ways to address anticipated current and future climate threats to contaminated site management. Read the full disclaimer.

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