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Priority 6: Tackling the public health effects of climate change


Climate change is recognised as the most significant public health threat of the century, and a danger to physical health, mental health and well-being. It threatens all areas of life that affect our ability to achieve and maintain good health. In October 2021, the World Health Organization declared climate change to be the single biggest health threat facing humanity, due to rising global temperatures.

The earth has already warmed by 1.1°c above pre-industrial levels as a result of human activity. Urgent action is needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°c to prevent devastating harm to health. Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better choices of transport, food and energy leads to improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.

The many effects of climate change are affecting the social and environmental determinants of health (clean air, enough food, safe homes and access to services). The effects are already being felt in Wales, both from physical threats to life through extreme weather, and anxiety related to climate. In short, climate change is already adversely affecting the health of people in Wales and will continue to do so well into the future.

Overview - why this is a priority

We know that some communities in Wales are likely to be more affected by climate change than others, and some are less likely to be able to take action to respond to these changes. These include lower-income households in areas that regularly flood, and people living with disabilities or chronic (long-term) conditions, and their carers.  The effects of climate change are likely to make existing health inequalities in Wales worse. We must make sure that we have efficient and fair adaptation policies and interventions in place that help to reduce these inequalities.

Wales has the environment and legislation to support the transformation needed to tackle climate change. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 makes sure that the climate is considered when everyday decisions are being made. This world-leading legislation places a duty on us to support the seven well-being goals put in place by the act. 

We have a long history of work on climate change and sustainability, inside and outside of our organisation. We set up our Health and Sustainability Hub to help put in place the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The Hub has helped develop our approach to sustainability and to reducing our carbon-dioxide output. With our key stakeholders, we have begun a comprehensive health impact assessment of climate change in Wales, to inform decision-making and policy on adapting to climate change.

In 2021, we carried out a review of the Climate Change Risk Assessment for Wales report (CCRA3). This report assessed 61 risks and opportunities from climate change, across sectors such as health, housing, the natural environment, business and infrastructure, and risks from the international effects of climate change. The report identified a significant number of risks that needed urgent public health action.

Since 2021, work has been underway across Public Health Wales and the wider health system to respond to the climate emergency. This has involved including activity on climate change in existing programmes, for example, Healthy Working Wales and Improvement Cymru, or developing new action programmes such as the Greener Primary Care Wales Scheme. We also published our NHS Wales Decarbonisation Strategic Delivery Plan. This sets out how we plan to address the climate emergency in Wales through reducing the carbon footprint (the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere) of the health sector (including us).

Key parts of our role reflect the range and amount of work we have done on climate change and sustainability. This includes developing, understanding and interpreting evidence to support action, providing interventions that work and giving technical advice to partners (such as advice on policy, changing behaviour, communication, monitoring and guidance). 

What this priority covers

The International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) plan for action on health and climate change sets out how national public health agencies have a critical role in dealing with climate change. The plan is in line with our own views about the work needed to respond to the health effects of climate change and has been used as a basis for action.

We need to do the following.

Protect, promote and educate

  • Protect people and communities from the health effects of climate change, with a particular focus on equity and reducing health inequalities.
  • Educate colleagues from across the health and care system about climate and health risks, making sure they feel able to act and respond to changing demand.
  • Promote healthy environments and lifestyles, using changes in health behaviours and health impact assessments to influence policy and decision-making.
  • Help people and communities adapt to and reduce the health effects of climate change.


Response and action

  • Make sure policy advice and guidance, based on evidence, is given across the public health system in Wales.
  • Co-ordinate action and contact with other UK nations and agencies and across the public health system in Wales.
  • Make sure we are prepared for and respond to extreme weather, together with other partners, in a way that meets the needs of our most vulnerable communities.


Monitor and evaluate

  • Develop our climate monitoring so that we can check the effects of climate change on health and well-being and guide further action from agencies, including incorporating early-warning systems.
  • Carry out research into the public health effects of climate change, and the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing them.
  • Evaluate the health effects of climate policies in Wales.
  • Evaluate the effect of our own ways of working.


By 2030, we will have:    

  • supported the Welsh Government’s ambition of achieving a net zero NHS Wales (reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible and reabsorbing any remaining emissions by natural or technological means).

And by 2035, we will: 

  • be a carbon-negative organisation (removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than we release) 
  • have worked with our partners to respond and take action on climate adaptation and reducing the effects of climate change;  
  • have a reliable monitoring, research and evaluation system that allows us and our partners to prioritise action based on evidence; and 
  • have a workforce that delivers climate sensitive public health across all areas of the organisation.