Time for progress in reducing emissions or risk human lives and viability of health systems says new Lancet Countdown report
OTTAWA, Nov. 28, 2018 – Canada’s slow progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is having a significant impact on the physical and mental health of Canadians, suggests a new brief published today by the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change. With support from the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), the report –Lancet Countdown Policy Brief: Canada in 2018 — provides seven evidence-informed policy recommendations federal, provincial and territorial governments can adopt to immediately mitigate the impact climate change is already having on the health of Canadians.
“Food insecurity, post-traumatic stress disorder, population displacement, trauma, cardiorespiratory impacts, and even deaths because of wildfires, floods, storms, heat waves and related poor air quality are some of the health concerns felt in Canada in the past few months alone,” says lead author, Dr. Courtney Howard. “The lack of progress by our governments is affecting us today and will increasingly put public health infrastructure at risk.”
The brief is launched in parallel with The 2018 report of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change,published in The Lancet today. It draws on Canada-specific data gathered for the global publication and includes the following recommendations on how Canada can generate a healthy response to climate change:
1. Ensure coordination between governmental departments, local governments and national institutions in order to:
- Better track surveillance of heat-related illness and deaths;
- Improve communication to the public about the threat of heatwaves to health and;
- Generate a clinical and public health response that minimizes health impacts of heat now and anticipates worsening impacts to come as climate change progresses.
2. Rapidly integrate climate change and health into the curriculum of all medical and health sciences faculties in Canada.
3. Increase ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in Canada, along with an emphasis on Just Transition policies to support fossil fuel workers as the energy economy transforms.
4. As unabated coal power is phased out in Canada, replace a minimum of 2/3 of it with renewable energy, with the rest coming from best-in-class gas powered electricity in a system designed to minimize fugitive methane emissions.
5. Apply carbon pricing instruments as soon and as broadly as possible, enhancing ambition gradually in a predictable manner, and integrate health-related and healthcare savings resulting from carbon pricing into ongoing policy decisions.
6. Ensure consistent, pro-active external communications by health bodies pointing out the links between climate change and health impacts in real time as events which have been shown to be increasing due to climate change (heat waves, spread of tick-borne disease, wildfires, extreme weather etc.) occur.
7. Fund increased study into the mental health impacts of climate change and psychosocial adaptation opportunities.
- The mean global summer temperature change experienced by Canadians (population-weighted) was 0.2 degrees (0.176) warmer for the period of 2000-2017 than for the 1986-2008 average.
- Observed temperatures in Inuvik (Northwest Territories) have increased by 3oC in the past 50 years, already increasing health risks from food insecurity due to decreased access to traditional foods, decreased safety of ice-based travel, and mental health effects from changed landscapes.
- Canada is not doing its fair share to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2016, Canadian emissions were 704 MT CO2eq, an actual increase of over one hundred megatonnes since 1990. By contrast, the UK reduced emissions by 40% over the same period and China is poised to achieve its targets ahead of schedule.
- There were 7142 deaths from fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) in 2015 in Canada, including 345 deaths associated with coal-fired power plants; another 105 from coal-related industries; and 1063 associated with emissions from land-based transport.
- The recent IPCC 1.5 report showed that even a small additional increase in global surface temperature warming will lead to notably increased morbidity and mortality from heat-related illness.
- Like tobacco taxation, carbon pricing is critical for inducing healthy behavioural change. The 2015 Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health stated, “The single most powerful strategic instrument to inoculate human health against the risks of climate change would be for governments to introduce strong and sustained carbon pricing, in ways pledged to strengthen over time until the problem is brought under control.”
- A 2015 survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, which generated a response in 12 of 14 schools surveyed, showed no time dedicated to the topic of climate change and health. A few schools have since added lectures.
- A review of studies of BC’s carbon tax showed that it has reduced emissions in the province by 5-15% compared to what they would have been without the tax, and that the tax has had negligible effects on aggregate economic performance.
- A 2017 poll commissioned by Health Canada demonstrates quite a high level of concern: 79% of Canadians are convinced that climate change is happening, and that of these, 53% accept that it is a current health risk, with 40% believing it will be a health risk in the future.
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.
About the Canadian Medical Association
The Canadian Medical Association unites physicians on national health and medical matters. Formed in Quebec City in 1867, the CMA’s rich history of advocacy led to some of Canada’s most important health policy changes. As we look to the future, the CMA will focus on advocating for a healthy population and a vibrant profession.
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