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NIHR announces package of funding for research on climate and health at COP26

The NIHR will launch new sustainability-themed package of funding for research into climate and health, NIHR Chief Executive Professor Lucy Chappell has announced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

Professor Chappell said: “It's essential that we commit to research that addresses the need for adaptation and resilience of health systems, designed and undertaken in partnership with the communities most affected. Science and technology will underpin these next steps.

“As Chief Executive of the NIHR, I'm really pleased that we're already funding research to help the UK health and care system work towards net zero which will lead to improved health outcomes. But we can always do more.

“The NIHR will intensify its work in this important area to improve public health and respond to global health challenges and changing patterns of disease, including climate change, and support the delivery of a low carbon UK health and care system.”

Addressing the global challenge

Recognising the global nature of the climate challenge, the new funding package includes a £20 million funding call specifically to develop new evidence to improve the health outcomes of people most impacted by climate change and extreme weather events in low and middle income countries through adaptation and development of health service provision. This call will align with the priorities identified by the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA)’s global health needs assessment on climate-resilient health systems.

Supporting a low carbon UK health and care system

As part of the package announced at COP26, NIHR has also launched a new call for research to support the delivery of a net zero health and social care system. The net zero funding call, by the Health and Social Care Delivery Research (HSDR) programme, is seeking research to evaluate existing or new initiatives to reduce carbon emissions in care pathways and health and social care services, including their implementation or service redesign models. The call opened on 09 November 2021.

Further parts of the sustainability-themed call will seek research into the evaluation of interventions or services to support the delivery of a more sustainable UK health and care system, including mitigating the effects of climate change on health and care delivery. The themed call will open in early 2022.

Building on research to date in climate and health

NIHR is already funding research to understand the effects of climate on health and help the UK health and care system work towards net zero.

Around the world, smoke from domestic fuel causes more premature deaths and illness than malaria and HIV combined. The NIHR-funded CLEAN-Air Africa project, a partnership between UK researchers and health authorities and institutions in Kenya, Cameroon, and Ghana, is working to address the threat of household air pollution, improving health and reducing the harmful impact on the environment.

In rural India, surgeons and engineers at the NIHR Global Health Research Group in Surgical Technologies at the University of Leeds have developed an innovative technique for keyhole surgery that significantly reduces both carbon dioxide use and the number of disposable surgical instruments.

In the UK, researchers at Imperial College London are investigating how the health and economic burden from air pollution can be reduced by the early introduction of the 2050 net-zero climate policies. The health and economic impacts of policies will be evaluated using established methods, including a larger range of health impacts, such as child health.

Meanwhile a team of NIHR-funded researchers at King's College London have delivered a sophisticated tool to enable for the first time the explicit calculation of public health impacts from air pollution arising from future energy strategies in the UK.

Our researchers are also investigating the effects of air pollution on mental health. For example, researchers at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre have shown a link between traffic-related air pollution and mental disorders, while researchers at the NIHR School for Public Health Research are studying the impact of environmental pollution specifically on young people’s mental health.