Lancet Report: Education Is Key to Climate Change Response
A high profile report on the health impacts of climate change on Americans identifies the education of health professionals as one of the top priorities for response by the healthcare sector. Released last night, the 2018 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change Brief for the United States of America, companion to the Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change 2018 global report, names the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE) as an example of an initiative that is working to meet this need.
Based at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, GCCHE is a network of 175 health professions schools and programs, including institutions of medicine, nursing, and public health, committed to educating their students on the health impacts of climate change and other planetary health challenges.
The Lancet Countdown U.S. Brief describes several ways climate change is already harming Americans’ health, including extreme heat and weather and vector-borne diseases. In addition, polls show nearly half of Americans are extremely or very sure that climate change is happening. “Given that the bedrock of public health is education about threats to health,” the Brief’s authors write, “it is critical that health providers inform their patients, communities, and policymakers about the health harms of climate change. Evidence shows that primary care providers are among the most trusted voices to deliver this message, while nurses are the most trusted profession in the country across all sectors.”
The report concludes that healthcare professionals must be educated about the health risks of climate change and identifies one ongoing effort to advance that goal in GCCHE, noting that the Consortium has developed a list of “core competencies” for students—educational recommendations for climate change and health curricula that aim to expand the numbers of health professionals equipped to prevent, reduce, and respond to the health challenges of a warming climate.
The GCCHE recommends students gain an understanding of complex environmental systems, including climate change, and learn methods for measuring their impacts on human health. Students can also learn to recognize and reduce climate-health effects in clinical and public health settings, applying knowledge of the current-day, simultaneous health benefits from reducing heat-trapping carbon pollution. Policies at the individual, local, and global scales can address those carbon pollution sources. In addition, students must learn to collaborate and communicate effectively with their peers, policymakers, and the private sector.
“As the world faces monumental health challenges related to climate change, there is a growing need for health professionals with the knowledge and skills to respond in a meaningful way,” says Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, director of GCCHE and associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. He also directs the School’s Climate and Health Program, the first academic program of its kind in the country.
In September, GCCHE launched a free online knowledge bank of links to publicly available resources, including slides, videos, and online courses; curricular guidance, information about events, textbooks, articles and reports; and opportunities such as internships and jobs, funding, and calls for papers. Resources will be added based on input from GCCHE members.
The Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE) launched in 2017 with the vision that all health professionals throughout the world will be trained to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the health impacts of climate change. To advance progress toward this goal, the GCCHE aims to create a virtual town square across all health professions by bringing together member institutions to engage on climate-health education, and develop global standards for knowledge and practice on the health impacts of climate change that all graduates of health professions schools should possess. Start-up financial support for the GCCHE was provided by The Rockefeller Foundation, and current funding is provided by ClimateWorks Foundation. Representatives of health professions schools are invited to join the GCCHE here.