“I’m an emergency doctor and I’m working on this because this is an emergency,” says Dr. Courtney Howard, who wrote the Canadian section of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change released this past November. The 2018 Lancet Countdown tracks 41 indicators across 5 key domains that show the relationship between our health and climate change:
- climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerability;
- adaptation planning and resilience for health;
- mitigation actions and health co-benefits;
- economics and finance; and
- public and political engagement.
Our Health and Climate Change
The Lancet Countdown exposes the intensifying health risks from heat and heatwaves, infectious diseases and declining food security.
Published: November 28, 2018
A lot of the media coverage on climate change covers how bad it is for the planet – rising sea levels, Arctic melting, rising greenhouse gases, extreme weather, droughts, flooding, ocean acidification, dying coral reefs, food security, and more. But what about how bad climate change is for our health?
Hundreds of millions of people are already suffering the health impacts of climate change. “Its insidious creep is being felt in multiple ways,” writes Christiana Figueres of the Lancet Countdown advisory board in an opinion piece featured in TheGuardian. “Rising temperatures are hastening the spread of infectious diseases; crop yields are becoming uneven and unpredictable, worsening the hunger and malnourishment for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet; allergy seasons are getting longer; and at times it is simply too hot for farmers to work in the fields,” says Figueres.
- Air pollution around the world kills 6.5 million people per year.
- There were 7142 deaths from fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) in 2015 in Canada.
- In 2015, heatwaves affected 175 million more elderly people globally than the trend of previous decades.
- The number of people vulnerable to extreme heat increased by 157 million between 2000 and 2017.
- During the summer of 2018, 90 people died in Quebec during a heat wave.
- There has been a 46% increase in extreme weather disasters since 2000.
- 51% of global cities expect climate change to compromise public health infrastructure.
- Emission trends translate into average global warming of 2.6 to 4.8°C by 2100.
Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation (Chapter 7) comprises the national assessment of the health impacts of climate change for Canadians. The increasing range of health risks from vector-borne diseases and rodent-borne diseases moving northward are now a reality. And more risks to human health and well-being come from extreme weather impacts, air quality degradation as well as diminishing water and food security.
The 2018 Lancet Countdown Briefing for Canadian Policymakers contains 7 key recommendations for the Canadian government:
- 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.
- Rapidly integrate climate change and health into the curriculum of all medical and health sciences faculties in Canada.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fund increased study into the mental health impacts of climate change and psychosocial adaptation opportunities. (Source: Lancet Countdown 2018 Report: Briefing for Canadian Policymakers, November 2018)
The 2018 National Climate Assessment Report provides a comprehensive look at the impacts of climate change on the United States. The report findings are presented in broad categories including Human Health:
- Climate change is increasing the risks of respiratory stress from poor air quality, heat stress, and the spread of food-borne, insect-borne, and waterborne diseases.
- Extreme weather events often lead to fatalities and a variety of health impacts on vulnerable populations, including impacts on mental health, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Large-scale changes in the environment due to climate change and extreme weather events are increasing the risk of the emergence or reemergence of health threats that are currently uncommon in the United States, such as dengue fever.
- Key weather and climate drivers of health impacts include increasingly frequent, intense, and longer-lasting extreme heat, which worsens drought, wildfire, and air pollution risks;
- Increasingly frequent extreme precipitation, intense storms, and changes in precipitation patterns that can lead to flooding, drought, and ecosystem changes;
- Rising sea levels that intensify coastal flooding and storm surge, causing injuries, deaths, stress due to evacuations, and water quality impacts, among other effects on public health.