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Public Health Law Strategies to Prevent and Reduce Human Health Impacts of Climate Change

July 9, 2024


Public health law plays a critical role in protecting communities from the current and future health threats posed by climate change. Based on their work with communities and public health professionals, the Network’s Climate and Health team has identified 10 public health law strategies to equitably prepare communities for the health impacts of climate change.

Maybe you’ve heard that climate change is the greatest public health threat of our time. But what does that mean and what can we do about it?  While many view environmental laws as the key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and solving the climate crisis, public health law plays a critical role in protecting communities from the current and future health threats posed by climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting health equity, and making us more resilient to climate change fueled natural disasters.

Just a sampling of the public health threats and concerns caused by climate change shows the breadth of issues that need urgent attention: extreme heat and urban heat islands, water quality and quantity, drought and flooding, wildfires, sea level rise and well inundation, emergency preparedness and disaster response and recovery, climate gentrification and displacement, health equity and the disparate impacts of climate change, mental health, community resilience, food scarcity, energy burden and clean energy access, air quality, vector borne disease,  and the list goes on. This list can seem overwhelming, but many people across the nation are working tirelessly to prepare for and mitigate these impacts, and opportunities abound for communities to derive and tailor solutions to protect their most vulnerable residents and create a more healthy and equitable future.

The Network’s Climate and Health team has been hard at work, listening to concerns raised by communities and public health professionals, and we recently identified 10 public health law strategies to equitably prepare communities for the health impacts of climate change. Given the myriad of public health threats posed by climate change and the differential impacts felt across and within communities, this was neither a straightforward nor simple task. And while we certainly don’t have all the answers, our initial list is based on our experience responding to issues raised by public health departments and communities and the following criteria and evidence: nature and severity of the threat to public health; health disparities and opportunities to address the social determinants of health; evidence of effectiveness;  priorities and concerns identified by the community; administrative, legislative, and judicial opportunities and barriers; constitutional considerations; legal authority of the jurisdiction; and economic, political, and cultural feasibility

There are important legal, policy, equity, and practical implications to consider with each of the following, but here are ten strategies to prevent and reduce the human health impacts of climate change, centered within our listening to the needs and priorities of communities and public health departments:

  • Equitable and community considered emergency preparedness
  • Prioritizing community derived solutions and protecting communities from climate disasters and climate gentrification
  • Resilient infrastructure and housing
  • Natural solutions such as green infrastructure
  • Climate and mental health
  • Protecting workers from extreme heat
  • Equitable transition to renewable energy
  • Focus efforts to protect drinking water, water quality and wetlands
  • Provide funding for mitigation and adaptation
  • Utilize home rule and local government authority to create targeted, equitable, and creative protections

The Network’s Climate and Health team has developed a presentation that digs deeper into the issues and opportunities associated with each of these strategies and we hope to expand on each topic in future articles. We will continue to refine the list of public health law strategies in dialogue with our partners as public health approaches to climate change continue to evolve.  The Climate and Health team would love your feedback on this list and what successes (or frustrations) you have experienced working to implement these or other strategies.  Please reach out to to share your thoughts or request a presentation of the issues.

This article was written by Jill Krueger, J.D., Director and Betsy Lawton, J.D., Deputy Director, Climate and Health, Network for Public Health Law.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document do not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, please consult specific legal counsel.