Climate Change, Human Health and Social Impacts Research Node

Climate change

"Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century"

Why climate change?

We are being exposed to more frequent and intense heatwaves and weather related disasters. Changes in some types of natural hazards have already been observed in NSW, however it is projected that the worst has yet to come. Find out more.

Climate change can impact our health directly via heatwaves and increases in the frequency of complex extreme weather events such as windstorms, floods, and droughts. Other climatic risks to health include changes in food productivity, population displacement, and conflict.

While climate change poses a global threat to health, health provides an opportunity to put a human face on this threat and hopefully achieve a greater public resonance. However, there is an urgent need to better understand how climate change will impact our environment, communities and lifestyles. A better understanding will also enable us to prepare and adapt for the future. This is particularly important for our vulnerable populations who will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.

What we do

The Human Health and Social Impacts Node will inform adaptation programs that seek to protect and promote health in NSW, in the face of a changing climate. The Node is a partnership between the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW Health and The University of Sydney. Node researchers represent a wide range of disciplines including mental health, physiology, planning, environmental health and medical entomology and span a number of faculties and centres, including the Sydney Environment Institute, as well as other academic institutions. The Node also partners with Edge Environment Pty Ltd, which has researched and applied climate change adaptation for more than a decade, and with the 3 other Nodes of the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW Adaptation Research Hub – Adaptive Communities, Biodiversity and Coastal Processes and Responses.

Current Node Projects

Climate change, housing, and health: A scoping study on intersections between vulnerability, housing tenure, and adaptation responses to extreme heat

Project aims:

  • Scope the extent to which unaffordable, insecure or marginal forms of housing exacerbate existing climate related vulnerability.
  • Identify particular risks associated with specific dwelling types occupied by high need groups in low cost social, private, rental and marginal forms of housing tenure.
  • Identify the magnitude of physiological heat strain experienced by householders against this housing typology during laboratory simulated extreme heat events.
  • Assess the efficacy of low cost cooling technologies for mitigating physiological heat strain during simulated extreme heat events.
  • Develop suggested communication strategies to raise awareness about adaptation options.
  • Develop a wider range of policy measures which might be introduced to reduce housing and health related risks arising from climate change, in dialogue with housing and health professionals.

Project members:

  • Dr Nicole Gurran, Sydney School of Architecture, Planning and Design,
  • Professor Tess Lea, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
  • Dr Ollie Jay, Director of Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory, Faculty of Health Sciences,
  • Dr Neil Hime, NSW Ministry of Health,
  • Emily Yipp, Office of Environment & Heritage.

Building climate resilience through policy-engaged mental health research

Project aims:

  • Measure the impact of the Northern Rivers flood (and the subsequent government, community service and insurance company response) on mental health and wellbeing of local communities;
  • Compare impacts across socio-economic and geographic gradients and key groups including people displaced from their homes, business and farming communities, Aboriginal communities, young people (16 to 25 years) and the elderly; and
  • Investigate the relationship between social capital/community resilience and mental health and wellbeing following a natural disaster event.

Findings will inform the design of qualitative case-studies and a prospective cohort study to examine the medium to long-term flood impact including the role of resilience and adaptive capacities of communities to respond to disaster events.

Project members:

Assessing novel surveillance technologies to detect exotic mosquitoes in northern NSW

Project aims:

  • Assess novel surveillance technologies for exotic mosquitoes in northern NSW, identifying any field or laboratory-based barriers to potential incorporation into the existing state-based mosquito surveillance program. As part of this assessment, reference specimens of exotic mosquitoes (e.g. Aedes aegypti) will be incorporated into testing as a quality assurance measure, irrespective of the presence/absence of exotic mosquitoes from the study area.
  • Determine the cost effectiveness of using the RSVP method for rapid and broad scale assessment of exotic mosquito risk in northern NSW; the costs associated with laborious property inspection, immature mosquito collection, rearing and identification of field collected specimens are a substantial barrier to effective strategic surveillance and response plans and may be overcome with the RSVP approach.
  • Confirm the absence of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus within study sites of northern NSW, providing baseline data on existing exotic mosquito presence and risk (as represented by abundance of endemic mosquitoes sharing comparable habitats such as Aedes notoscriptus) for the further development and delivery of adaptive and strategic response plans in the face of changing climate and exotic mosquito-borne disease risk.

Project members:

  • Dr Cameron Webb, The University of Sydney & NSW Health Pathology
  • Kishen Lachireddy, Health Protection NSW
  • Joanne Ocock, Office of Environment and Heritage

Development of a conceptual framework for NSW health research priorities

Project aims:

  • To develop a conceptual framework to guide research priorities and policy development, targeting the health and social sectors, vulnerable communities and government agencies.
  • To identify sector specific information and information gaps relevant to establishing evaluation baselines for adaptation programs that seek to improve public health and the delivery of health and social services in the face of a changing climate.

Project members:

For more information about this project, please visit the Sydney Environment Institute.