Climate change and health remain linked

By The IJ Staff | December 04 2020 11:30AM


Canada is facing a worrisome outlook as the themes of climate change and the health of Canadians remain fundamentally linked, according to data from the 2020 Report of theLancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.

"As we consider the post-COVID era that lies ahead, this data reminds us that we have the capacity and opportunity to address some of the most deeply imbedded inequities that continue to impede societal and economic advancements that lead to better health," said Dr. Finola Hackett, a resident in rural family medicine at the University of Calgary. "We can't ignore the impact of climate change any more."

Joint response required

The report calls for a joint response to the converging COVID and climate crises to deliver a triple win of better health, a carbon-neutral sustainable economy and environmental protection.

Canadian health advocates, Drs. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers and Finola Hackett, developed a Canadian analysis, with recommendations, that highlights the growing impact of extreme heat and air pollution on population health.

When it comes to impacts of extreme heat and global warming in Canada, heat-related deaths in the population over 65 have increased by 58 per cent in the last two decades. Canada is warming at double the global average rate, and even more rapidly in the northern regions. Five of the ten highest ranking years for heatwave exposure in the country have occurred since 2010.

Wildfires and air pollution see increases

In addition, the last four years have seen a 14 per cent increase in annual daily population exposure to wildfires in Canada. As well, there were 8,400 premature deaths in 2018 related to fine particulate air pollution.

Low-income Canadians, ethnic minorities, Indigenous communities and other groups at risk are unfairly burdened by the health impacts of air pollution.

The Canadian authors echo the advice of world-leading health and climate academics and clinicians who warn that an ever-hotter world, and extreme weather events, will likely produce shocks that threaten global health, disrupt lives and livelihoods, and overwhelm healthcare systems. 

They also insist that Canada has an opportunity to build a more just, sustainable society, by directly including all those most affected in its response to the dual crisis of climate change and a world-wide pandemic.

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