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Open Access Research article

Vulnerability of eco-environmental health to climate change: the views of government stakeholders and other specialists in Queensland, Australia

Linn B Strand1, Shilu Tong1*, Rosemary Aird2 and David McRae3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health and Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology. Postal address: Victoria Park Rd, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, QLD 4059, Australia

2 School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology. Postal address: Victoria Park Rd, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, QLD 4059, Australia

3 Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence, Department Of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland Government. Postal Address: 41 George St, Brisbane, QLD 4001, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:441  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-441

Published: 28 July 2010

Abstract

Background

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human activities have changed and will continue to change the climate of the Earth. Eco-environmental health, which refers to the interdependencies between ecological systems and population health and well-being, is likely to be significantly influenced by climate change. The aim of this study was to examine perceptions from government stakeholders and other relevant specialists about the threat of climate change, their capacity to deal with it, and how to develop and implement a framework for assessing vulnerability of eco-environmental health to climate change.

Methods

Two focus groups were conducted in Brisbane, Australia with representatives from relevant government agencies, non-governmental organisations, and the industry sector (n = 15) involved in the discussions. The participants were specialists on climate change and public health from governmental agencies, industry, and non-governmental organisations in South-East Queensland.

Results

The specialists perceived climate change to be a threat to eco-environmental health and had substantial knowledge about possible implications and impacts. A range of different methods for assessing vulnerability were suggested by the participants and the complexity of assessment when dealing with multiple hazards was acknowledged. Identified factors influencing vulnerability were perceived to be of a social, physical and/or economic nature. They included population growth, the ageing population with associated declines in general health and changes in the vulnerability of particular geographical areas due to for example, increased coastal development, and financial stress. Education, inter-sectoral collaboration, emergency management (e.g. development of early warning systems), and social networks were all emphasised as a basis for adapting to climate change. To develop a framework, different approaches were discussed for assessing eco-environmental health vulnerability, including literature reviews to examine the components of vulnerability such as natural hazard risk and exposure and to investigate already existing frameworks for assessing vulnerability.

Conclusion

The study has addressed some important questions in regard to government stakeholders and other specialists' views on the threat of climate change and its potential impacts on eco-environmental health. These findings may have implications in climate change and public health decision-making.