Maria Nilsson: Professor  of Public Health at Umeå University in Sweden and CATALYSE WP4 Lead.

Maria’s main research is in the field of of climate change and health, with her main interest being climate adaptation, climate communication and policy development.

How did you get involved in work related to climate change and health?

In the fall of 2008, my department leadership asked if I was interested in coordinating the start of a new research theme – on climate change and health.

It was a completely new area for me, but I said yes. My own plan was that I would pursue my previous research interests in parallel. But it wasn’t long before I had almost completely changed course and worked full time on building capacity and knowledge about how climate change affects people and their health. And fifteen interesting years have passed since then.

What is your main discipline or field and what unique perspective does it bring to the issue of climate change and health?

I´m a professor of Public Health, with the orientation of climate change and health. My PhD is in epidemiology and public health sciences and my main research focus has been weather, climate, climate change and health impacts, with a specific interest for adaptation and vulnerable populations. I lead research in low to high income countries; some examples of topics of doctoral students over the years: heat exposure and health outcomes in Costa Rican sugarcane harvesters, weather and weather extremes in association to mental health in Vietnam, climate change aspects on health in northern Sweden, household mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and dengue risk communication in local Indonesian communities to improve action. In recent years I have started a research line on climate change and health communication.

Can you give an overview on what is being done in your work package or task, and why it is important?

There has been little analysis of the process by which policies related to the health impacts of climate change are designed and implemented, and there is a lack of knowledge on how to frame messages communicating evidence on the topic for best uptake. In our work package we will fill some of those gaps. We strive to understand more about how stakeholders perceive and engage with evidence regarding the health impacts of climate change. Selected stakeholders may include citizen groups, policy makers, health professionals and the media. We will work with focus groups to assess how they understand and interpret evidence on the health impacts of climate change and how it may motivate or inhibit behaviour or organizational change. Case studies of policy processes will be performed that focus on effects of framing of health and climate change messages for stakeholder engagement. We focus on how to foster knowledge translation throughout the project to contribute to evidence informed policy and practice.

Your work looks at how communicating and framing evidence on the health impacts of climate change affects engagement and behavioural change across different stakeholders – what have you found to be successful so far? In your opinion what is still needed to create/encourage necessary behavioural changes? 

This is what lies ahead of us to understand more about, and we are really eager to learn more. Over the years, many in the public health field have been disappointed finding that knowledge does not automatically lead to behavioral changes, it is not enough. In order to increase the pace of climate change mitigation, it is important to understand much more about what drives changes in both individuals and society. What are the motivating factors and what are the barriers? Earlier research has shown that communication may have a role to play in fostering behaviour and organizational change, however the focus on climate change and health communication has been largely lacking. We believe that by building knowledge and capacity in this area the support for change will increase. We are early on in the project, but will over time tell you all about the results of our studies.