(From the left: Robin Fears, Michael Norton, Tanja Suni, Elias Hurmekoski, Eva-Mari Aro, Thierry Courvoisier. Photo by Sebastian Trzaska)

“Climate change poses major risks to health in the EU via both direct effects, e.g. due to increased exposure to extreme heat and floods, and effects mediated through ecosystems and socioeconomic systems. Climate change can increase risks of communicable and non-communicable diseases (including mental illness), and injuries. Among the most vulnerable groups are likely to be the elderly, the sick, children, and migrating and marginalised populations. City dwellers are exposed to higher levels of heat stress than rural populations because of the urban heat island effect. Without prompt and effective action, the problems are forecast to worsen considerably.”

This is addressed in the recently published EASAC policy report The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe. The report was introduced on 13 June in Helsinki by Dr Robin Fears, EASAC Biosciences Programme Director. The public event at the Europe Hall was organized by EASAC and the Council of Finnish Academies, and it was part of the EASAC Council meeting programme in Helsinki.

Fears noted, that even if there is research on the topic, it remains as a question, how human beings will respond to the environmental changes in terms of adaptation. In the report, the limits of adaptation were discussed as physical, technological, behavioural and economical.

Dr Robin Fears, EASAC Biosciences Programme Director (photo by Sebastian Trzaska)

In Finland, heat waves, pollution of water (algae, microbes) and vector-borne diseases are expected to increase because of climate change, addressed Dr Tanja Suni, the Research Director of the Ministry of Environment. Also slipping injuries may increase because of the repeating cycles of freezing and thawing.

Climate change was also discussed from the perspective of forest bioenergy. The Commentary Forest bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, and carbon dioxide removal: an update was introduced by EASAC Environment Programme Director, Dr Michael Norton. As global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to exceed levels compatible with achieving Paris Agreement targets, attention has been focusing on the role of bioenergy as a ‘renewable’ energy source and its potential for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

EU and US classification of forest bioenergy as ‘renewable’ energy is based on assumption of carbon neutrality. This is a simplification, remarked Norton: “The extent of neutrality depends of forest type, what kind of biomass is used, and how it is utilised.” Dr Elias Hurmekoski, Specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, agreed with many of the points, and discussed the viewpoints of different societal operators with respect to bioenergy.

One of the key conclusions of the Commentary are, that reversing deforestation, reforestation, increasing soil carbon levels and enhancing wetlands remain the most cost-effective approach to carbon dioxide removal both to developed and developing countries.

Dr Michael Norton, EASAC Environment Programme Director (photo by Sebastian Trzaska)

EASAC (European Academies’ Science Advisory Council) is formed by the national science academies of the EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland to provide independent science-based advice on important challenges for European policy-makers. The Council of Finnish Academies is a national member of EASAC.