On April 27, Edinburgh Earth Initiative organised the ‘Health in a Warming World’ event. Hosted at the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, the meet-and-network style event brought together academics, researchers, and students working across the social, natural, and biomedical sciences, as well as the humanities, to address the complex intersecting drivers of climate and health.  

People sitting at tables at the Health in a Warming World event.

Health in a Warming World event

Professor Jamie Cross, the Director of the Edinburgh Earth Initiative, kicked off the event by giving the audience a brief overview of our implementation plan for the years ahead, and spoke of the importance of acknowledging the institution’s historic contribution to greenhouse gases over the past 250 years. Professor Cross then highlighted the Earth Initiative’s programmes, collaborations, and ongoing projects, including the Edinburgh Earth Fellows and Secondments programme, the Earth Data Hub, and many more, ending his welcome address by introducing and extending a warm welcome to the speakers of the day.  

Alex Hutchison – Director of the Data for Children Collaborative, a special services team that fosters collaborations between academia and the public, private, and tertiary sectors to bolster conversations around climate and health. In her talk, she gave us valuable insights into the Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI). Dubbing the climate crisis a “child’s rights crisis”, Hutchison spoke of the massive difference the availability of right data and expertise can make in protecting children’s health and improving their wellbeing. The CCRI ranks countries based on children’s exposure to climate and environmental shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, in addition to their vulnerability to these shocks. Hutchison believes that the CCRI is “a strong advocacy tool for those people in the world who have the least influence on the [pressing] environmental problems facing us today.” Underlining the urgency of the situation, Hutchison pointed out that over 1 billion children across 33 countries are at extremely high risk. Further, an analysis of the CCRI data revealed that over one-third of children globally are exposed to heatwaves, while around 2 billion children are exposed to air pollution. Figures also indicate that nearly 1 in 6 children are vulnerable to cyclones and riverine flooding. In the future, around 2 billion children will be extremely vulnerable to heatwaves, regardless of the direction we move in with regard to climate action.  

Following Hutchison’s address, Professor Lindsay Jaacks, Personal Chair of Global Health and Nutrition, in her talk, unpacked the reciprocal relationship between food systems and climate change. Emphasising how our nutrition inevitably influences our health, wellbeing, and life expectancy, Professor Jaacks underlined the need to shift focus onto triple duty actions. Her talk then pivoted towards a discussion of the findings of the Wellcome Trust Project that investigated how US consumers responded to red and processed meat products that had warning labels on them. Partnering with an online grocery store, the study assigned participants to randomised groups – a control arm, a tax arm, a warning label arm, and a warning label-cum-tax arm. The study showed that even though the impact of the warning labels was not very pronounced, the combination of using warning labels and increasing tax on red and processed meat products was the most effective. Professor Jaacks also gave an overview of the mSHIFT (micro simulation of the heath impact of food transformations) project, and the BLOOM project that investigates the co-benefits of large-scale organic agriculture on human health and provides rigorous scientific evidence on the health benefits of organic farming.  

During the latter half of the event, all the participants split into groups, with Professor Jamie Cross inviting them to collectively reflect on the key themes of the upcoming University-wide climate and health campaign – air pollution, disease, heat, food, adaptation, data, and inequality and justice. Questions regarding the barriers to unfettered knowledge access, representation, the issues of engagement, communications, and eco-anxiety, were discussed.  

Taking the Initiative on Climate and Health

‘Health in a Warming World’ is part of our current campaign highlighting Climate and Health knowledge and expertise here at the University of Edinburgh. Stay tuned and watch this space for feature articles, case studies, events and activities over the next few months!

Links to featured Climate and Health resources, knowledge and expertise