As I write these words, Italy is experiencing record heat and the most extreme drought in several decades. From my home in western Canada, I see terrifying and disturbing news reports of equally disastrous conditions around the globe - floods, heatwaves, storms and wildfires that are unprecedented and destructive. All of these events have impacts on human health and health systems, often causing the most strain on the most vulnerable people and countries on our planet.

It is now unequivocal that human-caused climate change is contributing to the frequency, intensity and duration of these damaging events.  Experts are refining statistical techniques of detection and attribution to determine the extent to which a particular extreme event was due to climate change.  These analyses are a grim picture of the world human activity is creating. For example, earlier this year India and Pakistan experienced an extended period of intense heat and drought.  This combination of heat and drought led to excess deaths, hospitalizations, lost wages, missed school days, diminished working hours and an estimated 10-35% reduction in crop yields.  Scientists at the World Weather Attribution Initiative demonstrated that the probability of this prolonged heat was made 30 times more likely by the degree of climate change we are currently experiencing. Similar analyses of the extreme heat in the United Kingdom was at least ten times more likely than in a world that was 1.2 degrees cooler.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when we read news reports of the devastation and suffering that climate change is causing. Yet it is also important to realize that we, as a community of people dedicated to improving human health through research, have a valuable contribution to make. As Berrang-Ford et al have stated, “Because there is no time left for trial and error and since resources for organizing a transformation into a carbon‐neutral world are inherently limited, decision‐making on climate solutions needs to be based on the best available evidence” (1). The members of the Cochrane community must mobilize to create the evidence products that health policy-makers need to protect human health from climate change’s impacts.

Earlier this year, I and several co-authors published a Cochrane Library editorial, “Protecting human health in a time of climate change: how Cochrane should respond”.  We argued that members of the Cochrane community can support effective decision-making for climate change policymaking in the following ways:

  • supporting the identification and prioritization of important and unaddressed research questions for evidence syntheses;
  • producing, in conjunction with stakeholders, new living reviews that address key questions;
  • evaluating new methods and supporting the development and implementation of these where appropriate;
  • supporting the engagement of diverse and vulnerable communities at all levels;
  • working with other organizations to improve the efficiency of knowledge production and usage, and reducing research waste.

Cochrane now has an active and enthusiastic working group devoted to climate change.  If you visit our website you will see that we have several projects underway. We always welcome new members, so if you would like to join us, please contact me at dthomson@ualberta.ca and I will be delighted to speak with you!

Denise Thomson
Convenor
Cochrane Climate-Health Working Group

Reference:

1. Berrang‐Ford L, Döbbe F, Garside R, Haddaway N, Lamb WF, Minx JC, et al. Editorial: Evidence synthesis for accelerated learning on climate solutions. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2020;16(4).