Climate change

Infographic that repeats the information provided in the text.

The health impacts of climate change in Finland include:

Phenomena related to climate change have a direct impact on citizens’ health. They may also affect how health care services function. In the future, the population will become increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to ageing, an increase in the prevalence of chronic illnesses, and urbanisation in connection with certain impacts.

In addition, the changes in the climate in Finland and other countries have socio-economic impacts, such as increasing inequality, which may be reflected in the health and well-being of Finns.

Climate change will affect the health of Finns in many ways. However, the effects will be significantly less severe than at the global level. In Finland, adverse impacts are particularly reduced by favourable climatic premises, and the country’s well-functioning health care system and the rest of the society’s infrastructure.

Other health impacts of climate change in Finland:

  • Severe storms may cause personal injuries, for example, as a result of falling trees and other accidents.
  • Extreme weather phenomena may increase traffic accidents and cause disruptions in electricity and heat production and distribution.
  • Forest fires may become more common in Finland and abroad. The health hazards caused by smoke emissions from forest fires may increase.
  • Exposure to pollen will increase.
  • New animal and plant species (invasive alien species) in the area may cause health hazards (e.g. giant hogweed).
  • More mercury and persistent organic pollutants may be carried to Arctic regions if substances that have already left the cycle are released, for instance, as glaciers melt.
  • As the climate warms, the time people spend outdoors in the summer may increase, resulting in higher exposure to UV radiation. This increases the risk of skin cancer and cataract unless people use adequate protection.

Read more: Weather and Climate Risks in Finland - National Assessment (Abstract in English)

Health hazards caused by heatwaves

High temperatures also cause a significant number of serious health hazards in Finland, although from a global perspective, summers are cool in northern Europe.

Health hazards particularly occur during heatwaves, when temperatures rise in buildings and indoor temperatures also remain high during night time. This exposes the body to prolonged heat stress.

Heatwaves are already a significant cause of increased mortality today. For example, the 2003 heat wave caused more than 200 premature deaths in Finland and the 2010 heat wave around 300 premature deaths. Especially older people and people with chronic illnesses are prone to severe health impacts.

In the future, health hazards caused by heat will probably increase as heatwaves become more common, longer and more intense. The likelihood of adverse effects will be increased by the dramatic ageing of the population over the following decades.

Read more:
Hot weather (in Finnish)
Health hazards caused by heatwaves (in Finnish)

Slip and fall accidents

As a result of climate change, the number of days with slippery conditions will become more common in a large share of the country, as the temperature is more likely to vary on both sides of zero. Currently, tens of thousands of Finns seek medical treatment due to slipping accidents each winter.

In addition to milder impacts, such as bruises and strains, different fractures are common. Wrist fractures, in particular, are linked to slip and fall accidents. While such accidents affect people of all ages, fracture healing is poorest among older people, in whom particularly hip fractures also involve a risk of premature death.

In economic terms, the greatest harm is caused by accidents involving working-age people through sickness absences. Slip and fall accidents may occasionally lead to overcrowding in emergency response units.

Moisture damage in buildings and indoor air problems

As the climate changes, there may be an increase in moisture and mould damage in buildings. This is affected by increased rainfall and precipitation in winter changing from snow to rain, increased relative humidity and driving rains caused by wind, and rising temperature.

Moisture damage in buildings and the indoor air problems caused by it are associated with increased respiratory symptoms and the risk of developing asthma. Although no single reason for the adverse health effects has been identified, moisture damage increases the growth of moulds and other microbes, dust mites, contamination of structures, and emissions caused by volatile organic compounds.

The moisture and mould damage in buildings causes considerable health-related costs. At the level of the population, the symptoms and illnesses resulting from moisture damage and indoor air problems and related investigations, the loss of work ability and a decline in work efficiency may cost hundreds of millions of euros.

The health hazards associated with moisture damage are currently the subject of lively public discussion and research in Finland. Symptoms caused by indoor air problems are very common. As a result, even minor, relative changes in the incidence of moisture damage can significantly increase the amount of symptoms experienced. However, as the mechanism causing health hazards remains unclear, the uncertainties related to future impacts remain high.

Water-borne disease outbreaks

As a result of climate change, water-borne disease outbreaks are expected to increase around the globe, including in the Arctic regions. Increased precipitation, heavy rains, floods and rising temperatures reduce the microbiological quality of water bodies. As a result, these will lead to more water-borne outbreaks caused by microbes harmful to human health, exposing those using water for recreational purposes as well as domestic water users to disease.

Water-borne disease outbreaks are currently mainly caused by faecal contamination of drinking water, i.e. by the exposure of drinking water to diarrhoeal microbes such as noroviruses or campylobacter. In Finland, there are currently from a couple to a few dozens of cases each year with a total of a few hundred people falling ill.

Climate change affects the quality of raw water used by surface and groundwater plants and the availability of water, which increases the need for cleaning processes and disinfection in the production of drinking water. Campylobacter benefits from warm winters, which promote its transmission and preservation. Norovirus epidemics have also been found to increase as a result of increased precipitation and resulting washouts.

Climate change also increases the risk of water-borne disease outbreaks on beaches. The number of bathers on beaches increases when the temperature rises and recreational use of water increases. With more bathers, the water becomes contaminated more often and especially the occurrence of noroviruses increases. The increase in water temperature may also contribute to the spread of new species of microbes and enable the growth of some pathogenic microbes. In connection with the heatwave of summer 2014, around 1,500 people fell ill because of contaminated bathing water in Finland.

Infections caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacteria are projected to increase in marine areas as a result of global warming. The health risk caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacteria will increase on beaches, especially in shallow warm waters with low salinity, such as in the Bothnian Bay in Finland.

Cyanobacteria found in swimming waters may also increase and health issues caused by blue-green algae toxins become more common. The health risk resulting from Cyanobacteria is caused by the recreational use of water and the use of water in recreational dwellings, for example, when bathing in a sauna.

Water-borne outbreaks are fairly rare in Finland and have caused a strictly local health risk in all cases, as the occurred water-borne disease outbreaks have only affected those using the contaminated water. Water-borne disease outbreaks typically cause cases of diarrhoea not life-threatening to someone who is basically healthy. However, those most vulnerable to the infections include those with a chronic illness, older people and children, and the effects may also be more serious in these age groups.

Climate change may significantly increase the risk of water-borne disease outbreaks. Municipal water treatment plants already have to take into account changes in the quality of raw water and potential water supply problems in their investments. The ageing of the water supply network causes a further pressure in this context. Extreme weather phenomena caused by climate change, such as storms and snow, can also increase power outages and make water supply more difficult.

Read more:
Waterborne outbreaks
Bathing water

Vector-borne, i.e. insect and animal-borne infectious diseases

Vector-borne infectious diseases refer to infectious diseases that are caused by protozoa, viruses or bacteria and require a vector, an intermediary organism such as an insect, for human-to-human transmission. Different insects (mosquitoes, aphids, flies) and ticks are the most significant animals spreading disease.

Global warming and increasing precipitation will affect the spread of animals transmitting illnesses and their activity periods, population sizes and the effectiveness of the transfer of pathogens. Other important factors in the spread of vector-borne diseases include changes in land use and socio-economic factors, such as human behaviour, and increased mobility of people and goods. It is difficult to distinguish their effect from the impacts of climate change.

As the climate changes, the risk of Lyme borreliosis and tick-borne encephalitis may increase in Finland. As a result of milder winters, ticks spreading borreliosis (bacteria) and tick-borne encephalitis (virus) may multiply and their range may expand.

A humid summer succeeding a mild winter and late winter arrival increase the viability of ticks. Warming also has an indirect effect through changes in the populations of the animal hosts of ticks. The incidence of borreliosis and tick-borne encephalitis has been increasing in Finland in recent years.

Climate change may affect the occurrence of the epidemic nephropathy spread by voles and caused by the Puumala virus as a result of a change in the reproductive conditions of voles. Variations in vole populations also affect the prevalence of tularaemia (“rabbit fever”) and, as a result of an increase in small carnivores, may lead to a surge in rabies cases.

Climate change also causes changes in the habitats of wild waterfowls. Migratory birds, such as Arctic waterfowls, play an important role in spreading human and animal diseases. For instance, they can spread viral diseases, such as different strains of avian flu.

Climate change can also increase the development and survival of parasites. Shorter and milder winters and humid summers increase parasite egg production and larvae survival rates. Soil warming may contribute to parasite development. On the other hand, long dry periods and rapid fluctuations between freezing and melting may weaken the egg preservation of infective parasites, such as echinococci.

Read more: Tick-borne encephalitis (Infectious diseases and vaccinations topic)

Mental health impacts

Climate change may affect people’s well-being and mental health. It may increase the risk of mental health problems. Increasing cloudiness, precipitation and shorter snow cover duration may increase depressive symptoms, especially in winter. Winter depression may become more common and the risk of suicide increases. Physical and mental morbidity of persons with mental health problems increases during heatwaves. Climate anxiety occurs especially in young people who will experience the most severe climate-related changes in the future.

Read more: Mental health promotion

Well-being impacts

Climate change increases inequality. Those already in a vulnerable position suffer most from climate change as their ability to adapt to the changes is lower. Climate-friendly forms of mobility or housing may be unavailable to a part of the population. Climate change or the transition to carbon neutrality may affect employment in some sectors and consequently, people’s well-being. In addition, taking into account different population groups in both health care and social welfare should be borne in mind, and special attention should be paid to children, young people and the indigenous Sámi.

Read more: Climate change (in the Welfare and health gaps pages, in Finnish)

Adaptation to climate change

Climate change has been projected to reinforce health risks both globally and in Finland. Climate change may also affect the functioning and operational reliability of health care. For example, extreme weather phenomena may bring power cuts, floods and long heat waves.

The adaptation of the health sector can be promoted through measures such as:

  • Developing the preparedness of health and social welfare units for disturbances caused by extreme weather phenomena.
  • Raising the general public's awareness about the health risks posed by climate change and related readiness to react to these.
  • Monitoring weather and climate impacts using the data collection systems of the environmental and health sector.

Read more: Climate change adaptation (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry)

Adapting to the changing climate is essential alongside mitigating emissions. We have good opportunities for adaptation as our society is developed and its climate-related and economic starting points are good. However, a sufficient knowledge base is required for systematic adaptation.

The Climate change adaptation plan of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health includes guidelines for preparedness for the changing threats in health care and social welfare so that risks can be prevented. The aim of the adaptation plan is to determine the current state of adaptation and the structures supporting it in Finland and identify current and new adaptation measures in the health and welfare sector.

Read more: Climate change adaptation plan of Ministry of Social Affairs and Health