Climate Change and Health: The Role of Implementation Science to Advance Adaptation and Mitigation Efforts

According to the WHO, climate change is the single biggest threat to humanity. Mitigation efforts to stop the climate from warming are critical and continue to grow, but they are not likely to work fast enough for us to see the benefits soon. Thankfully, climate adaptation efforts, if implemented correctly with science on how best to do so, can have great potential to protect people and places from the harmful effects of climate change.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report published in March 2023 concluded that

“Adaptation planning and implementation has progressed across all sectors and regions, with documented benefits and varying effectiveness. Despite progress, adaptation gaps exist, and will continue to grow at current rates of implementation. Hard and soft limits to adaptation have been reached in some ecosystems and regions. Maladaptation is happening in some sectors and regions. Current global financial flows for adaptation are insufficient for, and constrain implementation of, adaptation options, especially in developing countries (high confidence).”

Adaptation efforts include things like cooling centers, early warning systems, or cash remittances to disaster victims. However, as the report highlights, adaptation gaps exist and will continue to grow at current rates of implementation. While some of these adaptation efforts may help, we need more and we need to do a better job of implementing what we have, as well as designing them for implementation. For example, the CDC noted barriers to access of cooling centers in Arizona, highlighting the need for strategies to improve their feasibility and acceptability. Challenges to implementing disease early warning systems also abound and highlight opportunities for implementation science. For example, the development and implementation of early warning systems rely on multisectoral collaborations (e.g., meteorologic and public health sectors), adaptations across geographical regions and over time, and sustainable and scalable efforts to support their ongoing utility. Through focused attention on understanding barriers and facilitators, developing and testing strategies, and assessing implementation outcomes, implementation science can inform efforts to adapt, sustain, and scale early warning systems and other climate adaptation efforts.

You may be wondering what does this have to do with cancer. There are three main ways that climate change impacts cancer. First, climate change-induced events can increase exposures to carcinogens, for example, through air pollution from wildfires or flooding of superfund sites. Second, changes in temperature as well as extreme weather events can impact health behaviors, such as physical activity or access to nutritious foods. Third, the increased frequency and severity of weather events is increasingly disrupting cancer care across the care continuum, from screening to treatment and beyond. For these reasons and with input from the research community, the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences has identified climate change as a new future research direction and has just released a new funding opportunity.

We are excited to see growing interest in addressing the health impacts of climate change among our implementation science and cancer control research communities. We hope to continue to support you all in this pursuit and welcome your ideas about how best to build this area and ensure our research equitably improves population health.

Gila Neta, PhD, MPP
Gila Neta, PhD, MPP is an epidemiologist and program director for Implementation Science in the Office of the Director in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) at the National Cancer Institute.


Dispatches from Implementation Science at NCI

Dispatches from the Implementation Science Team, is an episodic collection of short form updates, authored by members and friends of the IS team representing a sample of the work being done and topics that our staff are considering for future projects. Topics address some of the advances in implementation science, ongoing issues that affect the conduct of research studies, reflections on fellowships and meetings, as well as new directions for activity from our research and practice communities.

Last Updated
April 27, 2023