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Tool to guide local health policy amid climate change shortlisted for COP26 Climate Challenge Cup

A simple tool to help organisations use the latest evidence to adapt to climate change in ways that benefit human health has been shortlisted for the international Climate Challenge Cup, to be announced as part of COP-26.

The University of Exeter and Cornwall Council worked together, to develop the Local Climate Adaptation Tool, with support from Cornwall-based non-profit organisation Then Try This. Easy to use, the application combines complex climate change models to help the user understand implications of climate change in their local area, and how adaptation decisions can in turn impact health.

The tool was developed after local authorities and organisations were asked what would help them translate research into practice. In response to their plea for research outputs to be simplified, the tool gives specific recommendations based on the best available evidence, on what action can be taken in that area to support the health and wellbeing of local people. The advice is specific to area populations of around 1,500 people within a particular postcode.

Now, the project is one of 12 to be shortlisted for the Climate Challenge Cup, which celebrates partnerships between research bodies, civic organisations and local communities to combat climate change. The project, currently available in a prototype, will be showcased at COP26, the United Nations 2021 Climate Change Conference, with the winner announced on November 10.

One of the tool’s co-creators is Professor Emma Bland, of the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, based in Truro, a world-leading research institution on the complex ways in which the environment and human health interlink.  Professor Bland said: “We’re thrilled to be shortlisted for this international award, and by the exciting opportunity to showcase research that could have real benefits to local people, helping organisations tailor the best solutions to climate change to benefit their own communities.

“The tool was created in response to organisations telling us that they needed support to navigate the complexities of emerging research to understand how best to benefit the health of their communities. Our tool is the best model available to provide recommendations that are specific to each area and are easy to understand, while linking the user to the underpinning research.”

The tool allows the user to select a local area of interest, and see the predicted climate for this area over the coming decades. It combines these predictions with evidence on the health impacts of climate change from the scientific literature to support local organisations to plan how best to adapt, and enable the best possible health and well-being outcomes for local people. 

An example recommendation may be to plan cycle paths with shade for hotter summer months and protection from stronger cross winds in the winter, ensuring people can continue to gain the health and wellbeing benefits of cycling in a changing climate.

Understanding the complex interactions between climate and health is important to avoid decisions that may unintentionally cause poor health. For example, introducing home insulation without proper ventilation could lead to increased mould and radon, causing an increase in respiratory (or lung) disease. Building cycle paths without considering increased levels of rainfall could lead to paths becoming flooded and users not cycling (losing the benefit of being active) or cycling on roads increasing the risk of road traffic accidents.

Currently, the tool is available as a prototype, with a climate model for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, exploring the impact of climate change on ‘active travel’.  As a next step, the team plans to work with the CLIMAR project, a climate model collaboration between the University or Exeter and the Met Office, to develop the model further, to help policy-makers develop practical solutions to benefit their own communities.

Councillor Martyn Alvey, Cornwall’s cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “The Local Climate Adaptation Tool is a ground-breaking initiative to help local authorities and other organisations plan how to manage and adapt to significant climate change effects in their communities to positively impact on residents’ health outcomes. 

“It complements our local Climate Change Risk Assessment that we are also developing with the University of Exeter and feeds into our Decision-Making Wheel which looks at the social, environmental, economic and health effects of all Council decisions. 

“I am delighted that our work on the Local Climate Adaptation Tool has been recognised nationally and is set to be showcased to world leaders discussing accelerating global climate action at UK COP26 next month.”

The tool was created after consulting a range of organisation on their needs in supporting them to adapt to climate chance. In addition to Local Authorities, this included the emergency services, health trusts and local voluntary sector organisations.

Date: 19 October 2021

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