"We are not equal when it comes to heat"

Climate change affects our physical and mental health. For Lisanne Groen, postdoctoral researcher at the Open Universiteit, global warming and mental health problems are intrinsically linked and allow us to address social issues such as inequality. She also discusses the need to consult with indigenous peoples and citizens for better policy responses.

Missions Publiques. Ahead of COP26, 45 million carers called for health to be put at the heart of climate action. The effects of global warming on health are more or less known: lung problems such as asthma, cancers, chronic diseases… Less known are the consequences for mental health and the need to link the two issues.
Lisanne Groen.
The world has warmed by about 0.85 degrees Celsius in the last 130 years.  Cities around the world are getting warmer and warmer, leading not only to physical health problems and premature deaths, but also increasingly to anxiety-related reactions and mental health problems. Populations living in areas of regular flooding or prolonged drought have been associated with high levels of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma and hardship due to a natural disaster, such as loss of housing or employment or disconnection from one’s neighbourhood and community, lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. The need for psychological care increases following a climate-related disaster, so it is natural to see these two issues as intrinsically linked.

But today, the social and economic inequalities associated with global warming are still largely underexplored and climate change exacerbates these inequalities. We are not all equal when it comes to heat, for example. People who have more money can easily install air conditioning in their homes when the heat is on (even if it is not the most environmentally friendly solution), but those who live in social housing without enough money to invest in such technology are more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation due to rising temperatures at home, more stress at work, and more depression and anxiety.

While some countries have already put policies in place – for example the UK in relation to mental health following floods – the issue does not yet seem to be on the radar in countries such as the Netherlands or Germany.

"What we need most is to build bridges between different stakeholder groups and citizens to adapt our policy solutions to the needs of different populations.

Lisanne Groen

Associate researcher at the Institute of European Studies and the Brussels School of Governance

Missions Publiques. According to your work, we should include community groups more in the development of European policies on climate change.
Lisanne Groen.
Indigenous groups are important but often forgotten partners in achieving a carbon neutral Europe by 2050. There are still several indigenous groups in the world and in the European Union, although their numbers are decreasing. In Europe, we have the Sami (in Finland, Sweden and Norway). When I was working on my thesis, I studied the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). I attended several meetings of the Conference of the Parties and noticed that these indigenous groups were often present.

Since time immemorial, indigenous peoples have used plants, trees and other natural materials as medicines to promote healthy living and cure diseases. Their holistic view of life and nature is important for us to understand and move towards sustainable consumption patterns. They know how to live in harmony with nature without exploiting it too much. Since it is already a challenge for them to be present at the negotiations (as travelling long distances is not always easy and affordable for these communities), I have always been happy to see them give their opinion and share their vision even if I find that they are not translated enough into the reality of public policies. The less economically powerful actors must have their say and local communities are a much better example. Hearing from such a group of people, especially as they themselves are already so clearly subject to the consequences of climate change, is more than valuable.


Missions Publiques. The 3rd Citizens’ Panel of the Conference on the Future of Europe is about climate change and biodiversity. What would be your first recommendation to European decision-makers?
Lisanne Groen.
If I were a citizen participating in the Panel on Climate Change and Health, I would advise European decision-makers to address a broad group of stakeholders in their consultation processes. Before developing a policy, the EU asks stakeholders such as NGOs, researchers, industry and other groups with an interest in the policy to contribute. This is a good start, but the consultative system needs to be improved to make it more inclusive: today, the stakeholders who respond are usually those who have the resources, expertise and time. The transition to a sustainable society requires that all groups are involved in the EU’s day-to-day consultations, especially the less privileged. Sometimes these groups need financial support, as it would otherwise be very difficult for them to contribute, as they cannot afford to skip a working day to attend a consultation meeting, for example.

For my thesis, I studied the EU and how it behaves in international negotiations on climate change and biodiversity. I looked at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), both of which came into existence in 1992. I also looked at the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC. I looked at the EU’s objectives in its negotiation processes and asked the question: “To what extent is the EU achieving its negotiation objectives and how can we explain this? I looked at the other countries involved in the negotiations and how the EU’s objectives compared with those of those countries. I analysed the methods used by the EU to try to achieve its objectives. What I found was that sometimes the EU had a strategy that did not sufficiently take into account the international context, resulting in insufficient interaction with the main negotiating parties, or not in the best way. In contrast, the negotiations on the Nagoya Protocol – on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization – to the Convention on Biological Diversity were a success for the EU because it was able to build a bridge between the (more conservative) developed and (more progressive) developing country negotiating groups.

Ultimately, what we need most is to build bridges between different stakeholder groups and citizens to adapt our policy solutions to the needs of different populations.

More on the same topic:

Global warming: when citizens are ahead of the game, an article that looks back at the 2015 global citizen debate on climate and energy and the recommendations of citizens from 76 countries before COP21.

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