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Health Problems in the European Alps Under Climate Change  

Lisbeth Weitensfelder, Hans-Peter Hutter, Kathrin Lemmerer, Michael Poteser, Peter Wallner, and Hanns Moshammer

The Alpine region in Central Europe and its populations in principle face the same types of threats to their health due to climate change as those in other parts of the world. But special geographical and climatic aspects of that region warrant closer and special examination of the connections between health and climate change in the Alps. These include small-scale variation, in some instances steep mountain slopes, and, above all, a larger-than-average increase in near-surface temperatures. To that end, there are main pathways between climate change and health: “Direct effects” describe rather short-term health effects of extreme weather events. Such events have occurred in the past, and therefore ample epidemiological evidence is available for the assessment of their impact. With climate change, such extreme events are predicted to change in frequency and intensity. “Indirect effects” refer to a more complex pathway where long-term changes of various natural and anthropogenic systems in reaction or adaptation to climate change exert adverse or sometimes also beneficial impacts on health. Such systems include ecosystems in which, for example, the prevalence of disease vectors or the allergenicity of pollen will change. But agriculture and forestry or the built environment are also affected by climate change and in turn affect the health of people. “Distant effects” are also rather indirect in nature. But in this pathway, changes due to climate change in other parts of the world affect the health in the Alpine region. Increasing migration into the Alpine region and changing migration patterns are important examples of this pathway. In some instances, most importantly regarding mental health, there is still a need for more studies focusing on the Alpine environments. But apart from these especially understudied topics, as the climate crisis evolves, there is generally a need for continuous research on the health effects of climate change and the potential of health promotion to create co-benefits.