Climate Change Spurs Big New Plan for Health Research
Building on its decades of work to advance scientific knowledge about how climate change affects human health, NIEHS is leading a new federal collaboration to significantly scale up research and action in this critical area.
Seven institutes and centers recently joined forces to establish the NIH Climate Change and Health (CCH) Initiative, which was discussed during a recent NIEHS webinar.
“Although NIEHS has been one of the lead ICs on climate change and health, it is clear that climate change greatly elevates threats to human health across a wide range of illnesses and injuries that are being studied throughout NIH,” said Dr. Rick Woychik, director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program. “This is bigger than what NIEHS or any single IC can do.”
Presidential Order Shapes Initiative
President Joe Biden created the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in 2021 and issued Executive Order 14008 for a government-wide approach to the climate crisis based on an environmental justice framework.
“Since the inauguration, there has been an increasing focus on climate change across the federal government,” said Woychik.
Biden requested $100 million for the new initiative, which awaits congressional approval.
The research plan is based on the following objectives.
- Identify risks and optimize benefits to the health of individuals, communities and populations from actions to mitigate or adapt to climate change.
- Develop the necessary research infrastructure and workforce to enable generation of relevant knowledge, drawing from the full spectrum of biomedical disciplines.
- Leverage partnerships with other scientific and social disciplines and organizations to achieve the most impactful results.
- Innovate across the research translation continuum to ensure findings are credible, accessible and actionable.
Input from Across NIH
Woychik and IC directors from NICHD, NHLBI, NIMH, NIMHD, NINR and the Fogarty International Center serve on the initiative’s executive committee.
“Most notably, the executive committee has re-energized a longstanding working group with more than 120 members from 18 ICs and 4 offices across NIH,” said Woychik.
Exposures, Socioeconomic Issues and Mental Health
Dr. Claudia Thompson, chief of the NIEHS Population Health Branch, provided an overview of the new initiative at a special session of NIEHS’s advisory council late last year.
“Climate change is putting our planet and all its inhabitants at risk,” she said, noting that those most vulnerable are from under-resourced and marginalized populations. “The complexity of climate change impacts on health is enormous, and it is mediated by interrelated environmental exposures and social and behavioral factors.”
NIMH director Dr. Josh Gordon agreed, adding that climate change also affects mental health.
“We know about the mental health impacts of migrations, disasters and economic stresses,” he said, “but it is important that we do the research necessary to understand which communities are going to be most affected and develop interventions that can help mitigate these effects.”
Partnerships with institutions that serve minorities and are located in areas of particularly high climate risk should be prioritized in the initiative’s request for research proposals, suggested council member Dr. Lynn Goldman of George Washington University.
Communication also will be key, according to councilor Dr. Carmen Zorrilla of the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine.
“We are living in a world that has a lot of communication and miscommunication,” Zorrilla said. “Messages regarding climate change have been positive and negative, true and false. This initiative needs to pay attention to those messages to make sure that we have strategies to deal with misinformation.”
Initiative Moves Forward
“Implementation of the Climate Change and Health Initiative will require experts from a wide breadth of fields,” Thompson said. “The use of current infrastructure will enable us to create a sustainable research portfolio. This is just the beginning of a long-sustained climate change and health program for the NIH.”
The first step is to implement a research agenda by expanding funding across the NIH ecosystem and broadly advertising the initiative’s notices of special interest, called NOSIs.
“I think there’s probably no other issue that could be as global as climate change,” concluded FIC director Dr. Roger Glass. “It affects absolutely everyone, everywhere.”
Email questions or comments about the NIH-wide CCH Initiative to email@example.com. To learn about the initiative, see https://www.nih.gov/sites/default/files/research-training/initiatives/climate-change/nih-climate-change-framework.pdf.