Modeling future health risks under climate change scenarios

While epidemiologists have often projected from observed recent "exposures" and/or current disease trends to estimate future disease risks and burdens, they have much less experience in doing this in relation to the health risks of scenarios of future environmental conditions. Such scenarios usually entail plausible ranges of the underlying drivers (such as fossil fuel combustion as a major determinant of greenhouse gas emissions) rather than formal probability distributions. The scenarios also entail substantial uncertainties about both future societal trajectories and (climate) system responses to as-yet unexperienced (in human records) atmospheric composition. The former category of uncertainty can be better addressed by achieving a higher level of horizontal integration (of non-climate effect-modifiers) into the model. The latter category will require more empirical observation by climate scientists, both now and as the process unfolds (WHO, 2004).

Further, climate-health risk functions that extend into future decades, entailing higher climate-change exposures, may not be linear, and, anyway, the exposures may change in an unforeseen discontinuous fashion. Overall, then, this is a setting in which close interdisciplinary collaboration is needed, often across wide conceptual and content divides.

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