Climate change puts pressure on existing health vulnerabilities through higher frequency of extreme weather events, changes in disease vector distribution or exacerbated air pollution. Climate change adaptation policies may hold potential to reduce societal inequities. We assessed the role of public health and social justice in European climate change adaptation using a three-fold approach: a document analysis, a critical discourse analysis of a subgroup of strategies, and a ranking of strategies against our social justice framework. The ranking approach favored planning that includes various adaptation types, social issues and infrastructure changes. Themes on values identified in the five subgroup documents showed that risks are perceived as contradictory, technology is viewed as savior, responsibilities need to be negotiated, and social justice is advocated by only a few countries. Of 21 strategy documents assessed overall, those from Austria, England and Sweden received the highest scores in the ranking. Our qualitative assessment showed that in European adaptation planning, progress could still be made through community involvement into adaptation decisions, consistent consideration of social and demographic determinants, and a stronger link between infrastructural adaptation and the health sector. Overall, a social justice framework can serve as an evaluation guideline for adaptation policy documents.
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