Public health and climate change: How are local authorities preparing for the health impacts of our changing climate?

Sarah Woodhall, Owen Landeg, Sari Kovats

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BACKGROUND: Local authorities have a crucial role in preparing for the impacts of climate change. However, the extent to which health impacts are being prioritized and acted on is not well understood. 

METHODS: We investigated the role of public health in adapting to climate change through: (i) a content analysis of local authority climate change adaptation strategies in South West England and (ii) semi-structured telephone interviews with local authority public health consultants and sustainability officers and a regional Public Health England representative (n = 11). 

RESULTS: Adaptation strategies/plans varied in existence and scope. Public health consultants did not have an explicit remit for climate change adaptation, although related action often aligned with public health's emergency planning functions. Key barriers to health-related adaptation were financial constraints, lack of leadership and limited public and professional awareness about health impacts. 

CONCLUSIONS: Local authorities in South West England have differing approaches to tackling health impacts of climate change, and the prominence of public health arguments for adaptation varies. Improved public health intelligence, concise communications, targeted support, visible local and national leadership and clarity on economic costs and benefits of adaptation would be useful for local authorities in preparing for the health impacts of climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-432
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Public Health (United Kingdom)
Issue number2
Early online date11 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work was supported by the National Institute for Health
Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Environmental Change and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and in collaboration with the University of Exeter, University College London and the Met Office. S.C.W. is employed by Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who provided financial support for her MSc. The views expressed are those of the authors and not those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health and Social Care or Public Health England.

Open Access: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Faculty of Public Health.

Citation: Sarah C Woodhall, Owen Landeg, Sari Kovats, Public health and climate change: How are local authorities preparing for the health impacts of our changing climate?, Journal of Public Health, Volume 43, Issue 2, June 2021, Pages 425–432,



  • climate change adaption
  • climate resilience
  • emergency preparedness
  • extreme weather events
  • health system resilience
  • resilience and response


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