Climate change is already negatively impacting the health of Canadians.
Climate change has been a driver of recent health effects related to rising temperatures and extreme heat, wildfires, and the expansion of zoonotic diseases into Canada, such as Lyme disease (see Chapter 3: Natural Hazards; Chapter 5: Air Quality; Chapter 6: Infectious Diseases).
Health risks will increase as warming continues, and the greater the warming, the greater the threats to health.
Projected increases in the frequency and severity of intense precipitation events, urban flood risk, droughts, extreme heat, wildfires, and storms will directly affect health by causing more illness, injuries, and deaths, without greater adaptation efforts. The current burden of mental ill health in Canada is likely to rise as a result of climate change. Disruptions to food systems and water resources; worsening of air pollution; the emergence and re-emergence of climate sensitive infectious diseases; and increasing demands on health systems will continue to threaten Canadians’ health (see Chapter 2: Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada; Chapter 3: Natural Hazards; Chapter 4: Mental Health and Well-Being; Chapter 5: Air Quality; Chapter 6: Infectious Diseases; Chapter 7: Water Quality, Quantity, and Security; Chapter 8: Food Safety and Security).
Some Canadians are affected more severely by climate change, as exposure and sensitivity to hazards and the ability to take protective measures varies across and within populations and communities.
Growing climate change impacts worsen socio-economic conditions harmful to health, such as poverty, and amplify health inequities. Combined with increasing rates of chronic diseases, social isolation and an aging population, climate change augments impacts on health. People disproportionately affected by climate change include children; pregnant people; First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples; people with chronic illnesses; outdoor workers; low income individuals; and people with disabilities (see Chapter 2: Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada; Chapter 3: Natural Hazards; Chapter 9: Climate Change and Health Equity).
The effects of climate change on health systems in Canada — for example, damage to health facilities and disruptions to health services and operations — are already evident and will increase in the absence of strong adaptation measures.
Health infrastructure, operations, health financing, health care, public health programming, supply chains, and the health workforce can be impacted by extreme weather events and by chronic stresses from longer-term warming, reducing access to and quality of care to Canadians. Health facilities and services in rural and remote areas, and health systems that have not assessed and managed risks, face the greatest threats. Compounding climate change hazards that can arise — for example, when extreme heat occurs with drought and a wildfire — pose severe risks to individuals and the health systems they rely on (see Chapter 10: Adaptation and Health System Resilience).
Efforts to prepare for climate change are known to reduce risks and protect health. We must take action now.
Many health authorities are working with decision makers in other sectors, such as emergency management, to take actions to protect people, communities, and health systems. This is called adaptation. Adaptation measures must be scaled up rapidly and substantially if current and future health impacts are to be reduced (see Chapter 10: Adaptation and Health System Resilience).
The health impacts of climate change on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples are far-reaching, with disproportionate impacts on their communities, including food and water security and safety, air quality, infrastructure, personal safety, mental health and wellness, livelihoods, culture, and identity.
Indigenous Peoples have been adapting to changing environments since time immemorial. Indigenous knowledge systems and practices are equal to Western scientific knowledge and contribute to Indigenous Peoples’ survival, adaptation, and resilience. Preparing for climate change requires addressing determinants of health and ongoing health inequities. It also requires that Indigenous Peoples’ rights and responsibilities over their lands, natural resources, and ways of life are respected, protected, and advanced through Indigenous-led climate change mitigation, adaptation, policy, and research (see Chapter 2: Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada).
To successfully protect all Canadians from the health impacts of climate change, decision makers must pursue adaptation actions that are inclusive and equitable and consider the needs of racialized, marginalized, and low income populations.
Existing health inequities could be made worse unless future adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation efforts are designed to address them. Redressing inequities and strengthening determinants of good health, such as improving access to health care and housing quality, can help reduce the impacts of climate change on individual health (see Chapter 2: Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada; Chapter 9: Climate Change and Health Equity).
Increased efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are required to help protect the health of Canadians.
The continued emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will impose limits on our ability to adapt and lead to more severe impacts on health. The health sector can show leadership in reducing its carbon footprint and improving environmental sustainability while building resilience to future climate change impacts (see Chapter 10: Adaptation and Health System Resilience).
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions can provide very large and immediate health co-benefits to Canadians.
The economic value of the health co-benefits can help to offset the implementation costs of measures. Health co-benefits of taking actions on air pollution are estimated to include thousands of avoided premature deaths annually in Canada by the middle of the century (see Chapter 5: Air Quality; Chapter 10: Adaptation and Health System Resilience).