Three Steps Canada Can Take to Reduce the Health Impacts of Climate Change

The health impacts of climate change are increasing globally, according to a new study, but a Canada Specific Policy Brief sets out three key areas that could be a game changer when it comes to how climate change affects human health in the country.

The policy brief was published together with the Lancet Countdown Study, which tracks key indicators of the impact of climate change on human health, including the relationship between health and extreme weather, economic impacts, adaptation planning, air pollution, food security, and more.

Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and addressing the influence of industry lobbying, developing a comprehensive national climate adaptation strategy, and increasing urban greenery are the top three recommendations of the policy brief.

“These are tangible things that community stakeholders, local government, provincial, territorial and federal governments can translate directly into policy in … the next one to three years,” said Dr. Finola Hackett, co-author of Canadian politics. brief. “We have no time to waste and health in Canada will improve.”

Hackett points to the heat dome that descended over British Columbia and parts of the prairies this summer as an example of why Canada needs a national climate adaptation strategy.

As a family physician, she recounts seeing people in High River, Alta., With coughs and respiratory problems related to horrible air quality and smoke, and said her colleagues in British Columbia faced deaths and hospitalizations related to extreme heat. . The heat dome “would have been nearly impossible without human-caused climate change” and was responsible for at least 570 deaths in Canada, the report said.

“The interesting thing about climate change is that it is a magnifying glass,” Hackett said. “We have already strained the health systems, obviously worse with COVID… we already have problems with access to medical care in rural and remote areas, we already have problems with the economy and inequities.

“But what climate change does is bypass all these existing problems and integrate with them, and it has the potential to make them worse (and more unpredictable) if we don’t address them.”

Because of this, Hackett, and the policy brief, emphasizes the need for an integrated approach.

To address the intrinsic links between climate, health, and countless other areas, from the economy to social justice, indigenous rights, and the environment, the policy brief recommends that the federal government establish a new national body with the authority to work between silos. That body would be tasked with developing a comprehensive national climate adaptation strategy that includes risk assessments and adaptation planning.

“A lot of city governments, local governments are acknowledging the problems and doing everything they can,” Hackett said. “But what is noticeable is that there is a lack of coordination between the sectors and levels of government.”

With the health impacts of climate change increasing globally, according to @LancetCountdown, there are three key actions Canada can take to mitigate the effects of climate change on human health in Canada. #cdnpoli # Climate Change

In December, the federal government committed to developing Canada’s first national adaptation strategy in its climate plan. In August, the government announced that it would launch adaptation advisory tables led by environmental organizations, adaptation experts, indigenous peoples and youth, among other partners from across the country, to create a framework for concrete adaptation actions.

The most obvious recommendation has to do with fossil fuel subsidies: we must eliminate them.

When public funding through Crown corporations is included, the federal government of Canada provides more than $ 14 billion in annual fossil fuel subsidies, according to a 2020 scorecard from Canada’s Fossil Fuel Financing of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The Liberal Party’s electoral platform in 2021 pledged to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023, instead of 2025 as originally planned, and promised to “develop a plan to phase out public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including from Crown corporations, in line with our commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. “

Whether these promises will come true remains to be seen, but Hackett points to a slightly different problem.

According to the policy report, fossil fuel industries and associations met with federal government officials a total of 1,224 times, or an average of 4.5 meetings per day, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Environmental groups, on the other hand, only met with federal officials 303 times.

“I’m not saying that industries shouldn’t have a voice, I think they should, but why is it so disproportionate compared to nonprofits and other groups?” Hackett asked.

“What we really need is evidence-based decision making,” he said. “We have evidence, we know what the health impacts are if we continue to subsidize polluting industries and do not take action on climate change and health.”

Correcting that lobbying imbalance is one way Hackett says we can move toward those evidence-based decisions that will benefit Canadians and enable the shift toward a just transition away from fossil fuels.

Dr. Finola Hackett, family physician and co-author of the Canada Policy Brief, atop Mount Burke in Kananaskis, Alta. Photo courtesy of Finola Hackett.

The last solution outlined in the policy brief is deceptively simple: increase green spaces in urban areas.

People who live in areas with high levels of greenery experience an eight to 12 percent reduction in their risk of death from all causes, according to a Lancet Study 2017 on urban greenery and mortality in Canada’s largest cities.

“Trees are the best, they are better than any pill in the world,” says Dr. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers, co-author of the policy brief and president of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. . .

The trees’ ability to reduce air pollution and cool the surrounding area on hot days is invaluable, he said.

Data from The Lancet shows that some large urban centers in Canada are increasing their area of ​​wilderness and tree cover, but despite these improvements, Pétrin-Desrosiers also says there are problems with the distribution of trees within cities. .

“Often times, the poorest neighborhoods have the poorest tree coverage,” he said. “And that’s very unfair because the populations in those poor neighborhoods are probably the populations that would benefit the most from urban greening.”

Another issue to address is the misalignment between climate adaptation strategies and urban greenery, which basically comes down to whether and where the correct tree species are being planted.

“If you don’t take care of the trees you plant, it’s kind of wasted effort,” Pétrin-Desrosiers said.

To be effective, greening strategies must also take into account the changing environment and fluctuations in humidity, rainfall, temperature, and more.

Just as addressing inequity should be part of initiatives like greening cities, targeting people who are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change on health should be a priority in all policies, Hackett says.

There is no Lancet data on environmental and health problems related to indigenous peoples in Canada. Hackett says we need to be aware of what is not being measured, particularly when it comes to the health impacts of climate change on disproportionately affected groups such as refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples, and rural or remote communities.

“Part of the focus should also be on what we are missing,” he said. “We need to hear from the people who are most affected and what kinds of ways of thinking about knowledge and data are important to them, so that we can truly understand how climate change is affecting health.”

– With files from The Canadian Press

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer

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