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Canadian Public Health Association

Canada-specific Lancet Countdown Brief

The Canadian Public Health Association and Lancet Countdown launched Lancet Countdown Policy Brief: Canada in 2017 at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario today, presenting seven policy recommendations related to health and climate change in Canada.

The Canada brief is associated with the global report Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, which finds that human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal, potentially irreversible and affecting the health of populations around the world today.

While these effects will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable in society, every community will be affected, and emissions trajectories have us heading towards levels of warming that will likely exceed our ability to adapt. Though the delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardised human life and livelihoods, the Countdown has found evidence that although “progress has historically been slow, the last five years have seen an accelerated response, and the transition to low-carbon electricity generation now appears inevitable.” 

As a developed circumpolar country, Canada sits at an intersection of climate-health impact and opportunity. Given the projected increase in extreme heat events, storms, floods and wildfires, Canada needs a coordinated approach to its adaptive response and for optimal public health outcomes, must prioritise measures that both decrease greenhouse gas emissions and improve public health now. As such, the brief includes the following recommendations on how Canada can generate a healthy response to climate change: 

  • Ensure funding for research and best-practice information sharing between public health communities in different regions to fine-tune adaptation capacity to severe weather events.
  • Phase out coal-powered electricity in Canada by 2030 or sooner, with at minimum two thirds of the power replaced by non-emitting sources.
  • Develop a National Active Transport Strategy for Canada and calculate healthcare cost savings.
  • Enhance support for tele-commuting and telehealth options.
  • Provide health-sector support for Health Canada’s draft health eating guidelines which emphasize plant-based protein sources.
  • Increase funding for research into the local health impacts of resource extraction, with a focus on impacts on Indigenous populations.
  • Integrate Health Impact Assessments as a core component of the federal Environmental Assessment process.

Related publications

Quotes

"Climate change is manifesting as increased wildfires, extreme heat events, unstable ice conditions, change in Lyme disease distribution and impacts on food insecurity and mental health--all of which impact the health of Canadians. As a Northern ER doc, we’ve seen increased asthma exacerbations from severe wildfires, and our patients from the high Arctic describe changing conditions also found in studies: less predictable and safe ice conditions, and rapid landscape change. We’ve provided seven specific and measurable recommendations for action that fit with the federal government’s action plan for the environment and climate change. The Lancet says that tackling climate change could be the biggest public health opportunity of our generation. Now is the time to act so we reduce the human symptoms of climate change and our burden of chronic disease—and decrease the health spending associated with them. Just as in treatment for myocardial infarction—we’ll have better outcomes if we act quickly to secure a healthy planet." 

  • Dr. Courtney Howard, President-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and Canada-specific Lancet Countdown brief lead-author

“The threat to human health from climate change could undermine the advances we’ve made in the past 50 years and create an unsustainable burden on Canada’s publicly funded health care system. As a nation, we can avoid this disaster by tackling climate change today and improve public health for generations to come.”

  • Ian Culbert, Executive Director at the Canadian Public Health Association

“Protecting kids’ health and protecting the health of the planet go hand in hand, something Lancet Countdown makes clear by outlining the overall health effects of climate change. It’s critical that kids born today — who will hopefully live into the 22nd century — grow up in and inherit a healthy planet. Their good health now and in the future is crucial to the success of our economy, the sustainability of our health-care system and, of course, providing them the best life possible.”

  • Alex Munter, President and CEO, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario – Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre

Quick facts

  • Health impacts vary by region and include increased heat-related illness, such as heat stroke and death, higher pollen levels, worsened air pollution from wildfire smoke, and increased ground-level ozone resulting in increased heart and respiratory disease. 
  • Canada’s Artic is seeing rapid change, bringing the potential for food insecurity due to decreased access to traditional foods, reduced safety of ice-based travel, and mental health impacts from changed landscapes. 
  • Impacts on agriculture and thus food security will be region-specific, varying from potentially helpful milder winters and increased precipitation to crop-damaging severe weather and drought. 
  • Canadian can expect increased stress and displacement from disasters such as floods and wildfires, expansion on the range of certain vector-borne disease (including Lyme Disease), increased risk of water-borne disease following changed precipitation patterns, and greater exposure to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation. 
  • It is important to minimize the amount of natural gas used to replace coal-power as increasing numbers of studies show risks to public health, water and air from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. One public health hazard should not be exchanged for another.

    About the Lancet Countdown

    The Lancet Countdown is an international research collaboration, providing a global overview of the relationship between public health and climate change. Publishing its findings in the Lancet medical journal, the initiative aims to help inform an accelerated response to climate change. Between now and 2030, this multidisciplinary partnership comprised of 24 academic institutions from every continent will be publishing yearly data-driven reports monitoring developments across a range of indicators on climate change health impacts, adaptation planning and resilience for health, mitigation actions and health co-benefits, economics and finance, and public and political engagement. 

    About the Canadian Public Health Association

    The Canadian Public Health Association is the independent national voice and trusted advocate for public health, speaking up for people and populations to all levels of government. We champion health equity, social justice and evidence-informed decision-making. We leverage knowledge, identify and address emerging public health issues, and connect diverse communities of practice. We promote the public health perspective and evidence to government leaders and policy-makers. We are a catalyst for change that improves health and well-being for all.