The health of people around the world is already being significantly affected by climate change – and the impact of a heating planet on human health is only set to get worse. We desperately need to act quickly to protect people and the planet.
At Wellcome, we’re supporting the collection and sharing of data on climate and health to give policymakers around the world the context-specific evidence they need to understand the impact of climate change, particularly on the health of the most vulnerable communities. We have focused a lot of our early funding on the impacts of higher global temperatures on the health of women and children, and on understanding whether existing approaches to coping with extreme heat actually protect health.
In our Climate and Health programme, we’re not interested in academic research for its own sake – our primary objective is to generate evidence and solutions to climate change that can and will be implemented. Wellcome’s Discovery Research funding schemes are open to a broader range of applications relating to climate, including those where the path to health impact may be less immediate. But taking a challenge-led approach means we can more directly support the growing field of climate and health research, and generate solutions to this urgent health challenge as quickly as possible.
Practical solutions to climate and health challenges
Transdisciplinary research is a key thing we want to encourage in our Climate and Health grants, and that means bringing in communities and policy stakeholders to help shape and engage with our research. You can’t try to make policy on the basis of science alone and expect it to work.
We need solutions that are practical, acceptable and affordable in the locations for which they are intended. To do this we must bring in approaches and understandings from social sciences including economics, behavioural and political science to help define interventions that will work and are feasible. It is also essential to bring in new groups of researchers – from different disciplines and different geographies – a diversity of voices is critical to tackling complex problems.
We’ll be keeping climate and health on the agenda with international organisations and national governments through our communications and advocacy work. We want to help bring about high-level action both to protect the health of people facing the current and future impacts of climate change, and to drive transformational action on decarbonisation to help prevent the problem worsening.
Partnership is the only way to have impact at the scale that’s required. We’re keen to build new partnerships at all levels – whether it’s with community workers, NGOs, policymakers at national or international level, or other funders. If we work together in an open, equitable and collaborative way, we can achieve great things. I hope that Wellcome’s experience and expertise in funding research for human health will also make us a beneficial partner for others.
Working together to solve this global challenge
What we really need to support the climate and health agenda is collaborative, interdisciplinary research with a focus on real-world impact – and unfortunately the way many universities are set up doesn’t facilitate that enough. All around the world, you find academia divided into disciplinary silos of expertise. Academics are typically rewarded based on how specialised they become in their particular discipline.
Wellcome has a particular role as a funder to challenge current ways of working and stimulate more interdisciplinary, action-oriented research to solve global health challenges.
I know lots of students and early-career researchers in particular are fundamentally motivated to do more to tackle the health implications of climate change. We really want to support them and stimulate the whole field of climate and health. We need everyone to get involved – it’s only by working together that we will be able to solve this urgent global challenge.