Climate change is a “health emergency”, say Canadian health associations to new Minister of Health as wildfires continue

Press Release

OTTAWA, ON, Oct. 10, 2023 – With smoke from hundreds of wildfires continuing to threaten major North American cities, Canada’s leading health associations are issuing a call to the new federal Minister of Health to treat the climate crisis as a health emergency.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Canadian Medical Association (CMA), Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (IPAC), Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), Black Physicians of Canada (BPC), Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment (CANE), and others issued the open letter to Health Minister Mark Holland detailing health impacts of the summer’s record-breaking wildfires and other extreme weather events.

Together, these associations – representing hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals – are calling on the minister to recognize the escalating health emergency and bring a health-centered approach to the federal government’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis; to develop a comprehensive approach to reduce the health harms of fossil fuel pollution (the leading cause of global heating); and ensure systems are in place to better protect people from extreme weather and other effects of the heating climate.

“The climate crisis is killing our patients and pushing our healthcare systems to the brink – and the situation is escalating. Climate change is a health emergency. Action now by the federal government can protect millions of lives,” said Dr. Melissa Lem, family physician and president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

Minister Holland was appointed to his role on July 26, at which point multiple communities across Canada were under wildfire evacuation orders or warnings and the wildfire season had already broken the annual record.

Canada’s new Minister of Health has an opportunity to ramp up both climate mitigation and adaptation measures so nurses can better protect the patients we interact with through public health, home and community care, and mental health outreach after extreme weather events like wildfires. The time for climate action is now and we are eager to support these efforts,” said Helen Boyd, BC Representative of the Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment launched a series of street billboards around Parliament Hill in parallel with the letter to ensure the Minister and other federal decision-makers hear their diagnosis on the health threats caused by climate change and its root cause – burning fossil fuels. “Choking on Wildfire Smoke: Brought to you by Oil and Gas” reads one ad with Parliament buildings in the backdrop.

Wildfires have burned more than 15 million hectares across Canada so far this year, shattering records and blanketing cities from Vancouver to New York and Paris in haze. While the full health impacts are still being calculated, wildfire smoke-related healthcare costs for a five-day period, June 4-8, in Ontario alone were estimated at CA$1.28 billion.

Link to open letter

Link to images of street billboards

For further information: Reykia Fick, Communications Director, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) 647-762-9168, media@cape.ca

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