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

15.4.5 Human health and well-being

The impact of projected climate change on the diverse communities of the Arctic can only be understood in the context of the interconnected social, cultural, political and economic forces acting on them (Berner et al., 2005). However, such impacts on the health and well-being of Arctic residents are, and will be, tangible and ongoing. Recently, significant research has been conducted on the health and well-being of indigenous populations in the Arctic and the role of environmental change as a determinant of health; accordingly, this section puts more emphasis on these more vulnerable segments of the population. Direct impacts of climate on the health of Arctic residents

Direct impacts (injury and death) are expected to result, in part, from exposure to temperature extremes and weather events. Increases in precipitation are expected to affect the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters such as debris flow, avalanches and rock falls (Koshida and Avis, 1998). Thunderstorms and high humidity are associated with short-term increases in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases (Kovats et al., 2000). Messner (2005) reported an increased incidence of non-fatal heart attacks with increased temperature during the positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) in Sweden, but related it to changes in behaviour that can cause an increase in the susceptibility of individuals to atherosclerotic diseases. Low temperatures and social stress have been related to cases of cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle or change in heart muscle structure, identified in northern Russia (Khasnullin et al., 2000). Residents in some Arctic regions report respiratory stress associated with extreme warm summer days not previously experienced (Furgal et al., 2002).

The frequency of some injuries (e.g., frostbite, hypothermia) or accidents, and diseases (cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, musculoskeletal, skin) is increased by cold exposure (Hassi et al., 2005). An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 deaths/yr occur from cold-related diseases and injury in Finland during the cold season. This winter-related mortality is higher than the number of deaths associated with other common causes in the country throughout the year (e.g., 400/yr from traffic accidents, 100-200/yr from heat). The prevalence of respiratory diseases among children in the Russian North is 1.5 to 2 times higher than the national average. Evidence suggests that warming in Arctic regions during the winter months will reduce excess winter mortality, primarily through a reduction in cardiovascular and respiratory deaths (Nayha, 2005). Assuming that the standard of cold protection (including individual behavioural factors) does not deteriorate, a reduction in cold-related injuries is also likely (Nayha, 2005).