Climate change

Climate change and climate measures exert effects on health. The urgency for research into these effects is therefore considerable. ZonMw commissioned the writing of a Knowledge Agenda that describes the most important knowledge gaps. Read about the types of research we now fund, and why the funding of follow-up research is necessary.

More research into the health effects of climate change

Watch this short film in Dutch to see why we need research into the health effects of climate change. Knowledge gained from research can help policymakers in the formulation of policy and professionals in applying knowledge.

Climate change is a societally urgent subject

The changing climate in the Netherlands has a wide range of visible consequences, such as the extreme heat in recent years. Another effect is the increase in pollen (hay fever) or infectious diseases (transmitted by mosquitoes, for example). Measures to counteract these effects (climate mitigation), and measures to deal with them (climate adaptation), provide opportunities to improve our health.

Which risks does the climate pose to health?

Examples of the consequences of climate change are increasing heat, precipitation and drought and rising sea levels. These developments affect people's health.

Including health effects in policy

We foster research and identify knowledge gaps. With this approach, we try to gain more insight into the health effects of both climate change and climate measures. We do this together with various partners and research institutes.

As a consequence, it is easier to include health issues in policy, even if that policy is not primarily aimed at climate change (Health in all policies). Major societal challenges in, for example, mobility, housing and energy offer great opportunities to contribute to better health at the same time.

Knowledge about diversity in climate research

Climate change is causing more extreme weather conditions in the Netherlands. This has a varied impact on men and women, who differ both physically and behaviorally. Additionally, climate change exacerbates existing social and economic inequalities in many areas. Below you will find 3 articles on how ZonMw increases knowledge and awareness on the theme of diversity and climate.

Jongetje zit in het gras met gele bloemen op de achtergrond en niest
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A pollen radar could improve quality of life for hay fever patients

Due to climate change, hay fever patients may experience more symptoms, and the number of patients is increasing. Researchers are developing a 'pollen showers radar' to improve the quality of life for hay fever patients.

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Tim Stobernack en Egid van Bree doorzoeken afval van een operatie. Om hen heen ligt een grote berg aan plastic slangen, handschoenen en isolatie-jassen.
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Research into sustainable hospital care

For the first time, a study is underway to examine the climate and environmental impact of individual healthcare trajectories in the hospital. The results, particularly expressed in kilograms of CO2 emissions, provide insights that can truly make healthcare more sustainable.

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Twee vrouwen zitten in een huis voor de ventilator. Het is duidelijk warm. Een vrouw wappert met haar hand om af te koelen en de andere vrouw drinkt een glas water.
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More older women than older men die during heatwaves

During (extreme) cold and heat, more people in the Netherlands die than during milder temperatures. During heatwaves, it is noticeable that in the age group above 65 years, more women die than men. The likely explanation for this lies in physiological and behavioral differences between men and women.

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Planetary Health and One Health

Read how the terms Planetary Health and One Health relate to climate change, environmental pollution, living environment and people's health.

Urgent questions about the health effects of climate change

On behalf of ZonMw, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Maastricht University and Wageningen University & Research developed the Knowledge Agenda Climate and Health. The Knowledge Agenda contains the most urgent questions about research into the health effects of climate change and climate measures. A coherent research programme with a wide-ranging focus is important to obtain insight into the health risks of climate change.

Knowledge Agenda Climate and Health

The need to develop this Knowledge Agenda is explained in an interview with Maud Huynen from Maastricht University and Arnold van Vliet from Wageningen University & Research. They see climate change as a risk to our health (only available in Dutch). The Knowledge Agenda describes the most urgent questions about heat stress and allergies.

Download the Dutch knowledge agenda Climate and health

Heat stress

As stated in the Knowledge Agenda, heat stress is one of the visible effects of climate change on health. Heat stress refers to the discomforts that arise during a period of persistently high temperatures. Which discomforts these are, and at which temperature these arise, differs per person. The health effects of heat stress can be physical, but also mental. Even though we know that heat stress has health consequences, health still receives too little attention in addressing climate change.

Health effects of heat and cold

In 2021, the project Warmly recommended started with funding from ZonMw. This consortium, led by Hein Daanen, does research into temperature-related health effects. The researchers will compile an action perspective that minimises the detrimental health effects of heat or cold. The research will pay particular attention to behavioural components and high-risk groups. The project results will provide insight into the health risks of climate change.

Heat stress and vulnerable groups

Vulnerable groups suffer even more from extreme temperatures. Examples are the elderly, people with chronic conditions, young children, and pregnant people. Health receives little attention in research into and policy for climate adaptation. Read how researchers, policymakers and healthcare professionals are working together in the area of heat stress, vulnerable groups and health to realise changes.

Network meeting heat stress

At the initiative of the Dutch Climate Alliance (Klimaatverbond Nederland), we organised a network meeting for researchers about heat stress on 15 October 2021. Read what networking and sharing results and knowledge gaps have yielded. The subject of heat stress ties in well with activities that we are undertaking in the areas of climate, health and a healthy living environment.

Diversity in climate research

Extreme temperatures have different effects on women than on men. During heat waves, for instance, it is notable that more women than men die in the age group above 65 years. The explanation for this can probably be found in the physiology and behavioural differences between men and women. In the interview with Hein Daanen, you can read more about the importance of gender in climate research.


Climate change also affects allergies. Due to higher temperatures, some plants and trees blossom earlier, as a result of which the exposure to allergens via the air, such as pollen, can increase. Furthermore, the allergenicity of pollen can increase, and due to a changing climate, we are being confronted with other types of pollen (e.g. olive trees). In 2021, ZonMw awarded funding to the project 'Making the effects of climate change on allergy manageable: from pollen to an integrated view of the patient'. The consortium focuses on making the effects of climate change on allergy more manageable. They do this by mapping and predicting pollen concentrations and the related disease burden. They also provide action perspectives that reduce the disease burden of pollen exposure in a changing climate.

The effect of climate change in urban and rural areas

Research collaboration for solutions in practice

With the NWA programme 'Climate adaptation and health', ZonMw and NWO want to develop action perspectives for adjusting to the consequences of climate change. The focus lies on health and a healthy living environment in the Netherlands. The Dutch Research Agenda (NWA) has made funding available for this call on behalf of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. The call for proposals is aimed at research carried out by broad consortia of knowledge institutions, societal stakeholders and parties from the field. In the report, you can read about the successful first meeting held on 10 November 2022 and how 2 research consortia got down to work (only available in Dutch). Below, you can read about the focus of both consortia:

Climate change in urban areas

In urban areas, the influence of climate change on health is gradually increasing. There is heat stress and the water quality and plant diversity are changing. Blue (lakes, canals, ponds) and green (trees and shrubs) infrastructure can contribute to reducing heat stress and the warming up of the urban environment. The project BluE and greeN Infrastructure desiGned to beat the urbaN heat (BENIGN) investigates how blue and green infrastructure can be optimally used to create healthy living conditions in urban environments. For this, living labs will be set up in 3 municipalities. An important outcome of the project is a decision support system that municipalities can use to weigh up the balance between green and blue interventions to create a healthier living environment.

Consortium partners: Radboud University, Radboud University Medical Centre, VU Amsterdam, Deltares, Donders Institute, Wageningen University & Research, Leiden University of Applied Sciences, Unlimited Urban Management (UUM), Floron, Leiden University Medical Center, Cobra Groeninzicht and the Municipalities of Hilversum, Dordrecht and Leiden

Climate change in rural areas

There is too little attention for the health effects of climate change in rural areas. This limits the impact of measures to combat climate change and its effects. The project CliMate AdaptatioN for HealThy Rural Areas (MANTRA) integrates solutions to climate change to tackle health risks and other challenges for local communities. In tandem with this, management arrangements are being designed to effectively implement these solutions. The researchers collaborate with local communities in 3 rural labs in the Dutch regions Hogeland, Alblasserwaard and Northeast Brabant. The aim is to realise win-win solutions for climate change, health and other rural development issues. This is not just a matter of good intentions, but concerns well-considered solutions that can be genuinely implemented.

Consortium partners: Maastricht University, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Wageningen University & Research, Naturalis, IVO, Leiden University of Applied Sciences, Platform 31, Cliëntenbelang Amsterdam, Movisie, Louis Bolk Institute, ambassador of Vakland het Hogeland, Wongema, CMO STAMM, Herenboeren Landmeerse Loop, GGD Hart voor Brabant, Bureau LIB, RNOB, GGD Groningen, Groninger Energie Koepel, Wadden Academy.

Healthy living environment

Climate change is one of the themes within the ZonMw-wide societal issue Healthy living environment. The living environment can make a positive contribution to health by protecting people against risks such as climate effects, zoonoses and environmental pollution. Promoting healthy behaviour, such as sufficient exercise and a balanced diet, play a role in this as well.

Infectious diseases, climate change and healthy living environment

Read how infectious diseases, climate change and a healthy living environment impact each other.

Sustainable healthcare: Impact of healthcare on the climate

One of the research projects funded by ZonMw measures a hospital's climate and environmental impact (CO2 emissions and waste reduction). That is being done for specific, frequently occurring individual care trajectories for patients from the units Emergency Care, Operation Theatres and Intensive Care. The research results will provide an action perspective for making the care processes in these units more sustainable.

Read more about sustainable healthcare

International research into climate and food security

JPI HDHL, JPI Oceans and FACCE JPI fund the project 'Food and Nutrition security' ~ SYSTEMIC' for research about climate and food security.