Climate Change and Health tool

Developed by: World Health Organisation (2013)

This tool considers the most recent scientific evidence on the health impacts of climate change.  An excel spreadsheet is available [by emailing the authors at] that claims to be able to estimate the costs associated with the health impacts of human induced climate change, and also how much health adaptation is likely to cost in purely financial terms. The aim is to help a range of organisations to plan adaptation responses that will most efficiently protect human health under expected future climate change.

Proponents of the tool  argue that it allows decision-makers to make informed policy choices based on the robust and explicit economic costs of both the health impacts of climate change and adaptation actions. They claim that such financial evidence will enable them to make strong arguments in favour of undertaking early, preventative action to reduce the health impacts of climate change. The tool is meant to help build the resilience of people and communities as part of a set of other responses, evidence and activities.

However, from the perspective of justice and climate change the tool is open to some major objections.  The tool uses techniques which are deeply controversial.  For example estimating the monetary value of a statistical life is notoriously problematic and involves relating loss of life to income or GDP. As a result poorer people or regions will be attributed a lower value for lives lost. In addition, the method employed requires the use of a discount rate which puts a lower value on the health impacts of those in the future compared to those in the present.  In the context of justice and climate change this has particularly stark implications.  The tool involves the use of techniques that will put lower values on the health impacts of those least responsible and most impacted by the effects of climate change – the poor and future generations.  Those affected worst count least.  For such reasons, from the perspective of climate justice, there are strong objections to the cost-benefit methodology involved. 

Both discounting and placing values on death via a statistical life have led to deep controversies in past economic valuations in climate policy making.  The tool illustrates the importance of the users of decision tools like this appreciating that they are not simply performing a technical exercise without implications for the justice in the distributions of benefits and harms within and across generations.