Abstract of PhD Thesis

Climate Change and Health in Ireland: A National Vulnerability Assessment

Elisabeth Cullen, National University of Ireland, Maynooth (2007)

In keeping with global trends, the mean annual air temperature in Ireland has increased by 0.50C over the last 100 years. This is comparable to the global 0.60C rise. Climate change is expected to impact on health, and will have both direct and indirect impacts. As a result, calls have been made to estimate the impact of climate change on health nationally.

The health impacts of changes in climatic variables on the Irish population were estimated and quantified where possible. Mortality, morbidity and climatic data were obtained from the Central Statistics Office, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, Met Eireann and the Irish Climate and Analysis Research Group. Temperature outputs were obtained from global climate models modified for Irish conditions, and driven by specified scenarios. An analogue approach was adopted, using curve fitting and modelling techniques to estimate future impacts on health.

Overall reductions are seen in mortality, increasing as time progresses. The reductions are evident in total mortality, specifically in respiratory and cardiovascular mortality, and are greatest in the older population. Changes in the incidence of food-borne disease were estimated, and increases in the future incidence of salmonella, campylobacter and E Coli 0157 were quantified. In areas where increased rainfall and flooding occur, the incidence of waterborne disease may increase, particularly in areas where the water supply is predominantly from private wells, and in areas where water treatment facilities are inadequate. The possibility of increases in other infectious diseases, including malaria is discussed. Increases may also occur in the incidence of allergic diseases, and skin cancer. 

Recommendations are made and include the development of an educational campaign to reduce future mortality from heat waves, and measures to reduce the vulnerability of water supplies to the impact of climate change.