Responding to Climate Change as Public Health Professionals

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, June 16, 2020

While COVID-19 will continue to demand our attention as public health professionals, we cannot ignore the looming public health crisis presented by climate change. 

The 2016 Director-General of the World Health Organization described climate change as “the defining issue for the 21st century” for public health.  On a global scale, climate change is already threatening the health of hundreds of millions of people each year with extreme weather events, flooding, heat waves, infectious diseases, and growing rates of under-nourishment and malnutrition.  The 2018 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change reports found that, in 2017:

  • 157 million more people were exposed to heat waves, than in 2000;
  • 62 billion more hours of labour were lost to extreme heat, than were lost in 2000;
  • 712 extreme weather events occurred resulting in $326 billion (US) in economic losses – nearly a three-fold increase in costs over 2016;
  • An increasing rate of insect- and animal-borne diseases in Africa; and
  • A downward trend in agricultural yield in 30 countries.

These health risks are occurring with 1oC of global warming so it is distressing to know that global warming is expected to reach 1.5 to 2oC  between 2030 and 2052 if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate.  When the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) examined the impacts expected with 1.5 and 2oC of global warming, it painted a picture of catastrophic proportions for 2oC of global warming for ecosystems, human health and human society.  It found, for example, that several hundred million more people would experience climate-related poverty in 2050 if global warming reached 2oC, than would if it were limited to 1.5oC.  

Climate Change is also Harming Canadians

In Canada, we have experienced fewer health impacts from climate change than people in many other countries because of geography and a well-developed public health infrastructure, but we are not immune.  Climate change is already harming the physical and mental health of Canadians as heat waves, wildfires, floods and hurricanes increase in frequency and intensity, permafrost melts, sea levels rise on three coasts, and the range of vector-borne diseases shifts …..

To continue reading, please click on this link to the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health website: NCCEH – blog – Responding to Climate Change as Healthy Professionals.

To see presentation given at the NCCEH Webinar on June 25, 2020, click here (2MB).