IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

14.4.5 Human health

Risks from climate change to human health will be strongly modulated by changes in health care infrastructure, technology, and accessibility as well as ageing of the population, and patterns of immigration and/or emigration (UNPD, 2005). Across North America, the population over the age of 65 will increase slowly to 2010, and then grow dramatically as the Baby Boomers join the ranks of the elderly – the segment of the population most at risk of dying in heatwaves.

Heatwaves and health

Severe heatwaves, characterised by stagnant, warm air masses and consecutive nights with high minimum temperatures, will intensify in magnitude and duration over the portions of the U.S. and Canada where they already occur (high confidence) (Cheng et al., 2005). Late in the century, Chicago is projected to experience 25% more frequent heatwaves annually (using the PCM AOGCM with a business-as-usual emissions scenario, for the period 2080 to 2099) (Meehl and Tebaldi, 2004), and the projected number of heatwave days in Los Angeles increases from 12 to 44-95 (based on PCM and HadCM3 for the A1FI and B1 scenarios, for the 2070 to 2099 period) (Hayhoe et al., 2004).

Air pollution

Surface ozone concentration may increase with a warmer climate. Ozone damages lung tissue, causing particular problems for people with asthma and other lung diseases. Even modest exposure to ozone may encourage the development of asthma in children (McConnell et al., 2002; Gent et al., 2003). Ozone and non-volatile secondary particulate matter generally increase at higher temperatures, due to increased gas-phase reaction rates (Aw and Kleeman, 2002). Many species of trees emit volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as isoprene, a precursor of ozone (Lerdau and Keller, 1998), at rates that increase rapidly with temperature (Guenther, 2002).

For the 2050s, daily average ozone levels are projected to increase by 3.7 ppb across the eastern U.S. (based on the GISS/MM5 AOGCM and the SRES A2 emissions scenario), with the cities most polluted today experiencing the greatest increase in ozone pollution (Hogrefe et al., 2004). One-hour maximum ozone follows a similar pattern, with the number of summer days exceeding the 8-hour regulatory U.S. standard projected to increase by 68% (Bell et al., 2007). Assuming constant population and dose-response characteristics, ozone-related deaths from climate change increase by approximately 4.5% from the 1990s to the 2050s (Knowlton et al., 2004; Bell et al., 2007). The large potential population exposed to outdoor air pollution translates this small relative risk into a substantial attributable health risk.


Pollen, another air contaminant, is likely to increase with elevated temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentrations. A doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration stimulated ragweed-pollen production by over 50% (Wayne et al., 2002). Ragweed grew faster, flowered earlier and produced significantly greater above-ground biomass and pollen at urban than at rural locations (Ziska et al., 2003).

Lyme disease

The northern boundary of tick-borne Lyme disease is limited by cold temperature effects on the tick, Ixodes scapularis. The northern range limit for this tick could shift north by 200 km by the 2020s, and 1000 km by the 2080s (based on projections from the CGCM2 and HadCM3 AOGCMs under the SRES A2 emissions scenario) (Ogden et al., 2006).