Climate change and health with an emphasis on interactions with ultraviolet radiation: a review


Correspondence: Robyn M. Lucas, tel. + 61 2 6125 3448, fax + 61 2 6125 5614, e-mail:


Climate change is increasingly recognized as a major risk to human health, and health concerns are assuming more importance in international debates on mitigation and adaptation strategies. Health consequences of climate change will occur through direct and indirect routes, and as a result of interactions with other environmental exposures. Heatwaves will become more common and are associated with higher mortality particularly in the elderly and those with pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. Warmer ambient temperatures will result in more dehydration episodes and increased risks of renal disease and, through effects on pollen seasons, there may be an increase in allergic disease such as asthma and hayfever. Other adverse effects including on air quality, food safety and security and an expanding distribution of some infectious diseases, including vector-borne diseases, are postulated. A related but separate environmental exposure is that of ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Interactions between climate change and stratospheric ozone (and the causes of ozone depletion) will cause changes to levels of ambient UVR in the future and warmer temperatures are likely to change sun exposure behaviour. Co-occurring effects on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems have potential consequences for food safety, quality and supply. Climate change-related exposures are likely to affect the incidence and distribution of diseases usually considered as caused by UVR exposure; and changes in UVR exposure will modulate the climate change effects on human health. For example, in some regions warmer temperatures due to climate change will encourage more outdoor behaviour, with likely consequences for increasing skin cancer incidence. Although many of the health outcomes of both climate change and the interaction of climate change and UVR exposure are somewhat speculative, there are risks to over- or under-estimations of health risks if synergistic and antagonistic effects of co-occurring environmental changes are not considered.