Climate and Health

The climate crisis is among the greatest public health challenges facing humanity.

For every human life around the world, health and wellness is intertwined the environment in which people live. This is why climate change poses such an immense breadth of impacts to human health: it affects the water we drink, the food we grow, the air we breathe, and much more. We tackle the impact of the climate crisis through education and research by our Center for Climate and Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Global Consortium for Climate Health and Education, and interdisciplinary collaborations across the School, Medical Center, and the University.

In the last 50 years, scientists have observed an increase in global temperature at a rate faster than ever before recorded. The public health effects are already layered and complex: Increased ozone air pollution results in 4.2 million premature deaths annually according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Outbreaks of infectious diseases like Zika, malaria, and dengue fever are emerging in new hot spots. Extreme heat, more frequent floods and rainstorms, droughts, and wildfires are increasingly deadly. Marginalized populations contend with weakened sanitation systems and lack of access to safe shelter following historic storms. Food systems struggle as temperatures and carbon dioxide levels rise, causing crops such as barley, rice, and wheat to wither or lose nutrient value from depleted soil. Many of the negative effects fall disproportionately on poorer populations, older adults, and children, and low-resource countries.

Our faculty and students are leading an interdisciplinary response to this public health crisis by:

  • Uncovering health challenges to marginalized communities through world-class research
  • Training the next generation of leaders through master’s and doctoral programs
  • Educating health care professionals on climate and health through the Global Consortium on Climate and Health
  • Developing public health tools to adapt to our changing climate
  • Turning research into informed policy recommendations
  • Evaluating real world policies and actions

With broad and deep expertise across a range of climate and health areas, our faculty build interdisciplinary teams that unlock complex new understandings of the impact of the climate crisis on human health. We launched the Climate and Health program in 2008, the first of its kind program at a school of public health to investigate the health impacts of climate change. Through our program we offered the first doctoral program in climate and health and a climate health certificate program for master’s students from across the School’s academic departments.

Center for Climate and Health

Today, faculty and students in our Center for Climate and Health (building on our groundbreaking Climate and Health program) investigate a wide range of issues impacted by climate, including food security, pollution, heat-related morbidity and mortality, forced migration, infectious disease, children’s health, epigenetics, metabolomics, health justice, and neurodevelopment. Our faculty have been studying these and other environmental health risks factors for years, identifying today’s most pressing issues, forecasting future challenges, and developing analytical tools to improve long-term health resiliency to climate extremes. Our experts partner with other Columbia institutions, including the Columbia Climate School, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Climate and Health Education

We are at the forefront of the global effort to build a health professional workforce that is trained to provide education on the health impacts of climate change. To date, the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE), launched by Columbia Mailman in 2017, includes more than 300 health professions school member institutions in more than 30 countries, on six continents. GCCHE also includes three Association Members, most recently the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region.