Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on her annual report 2022: Mobilizing Public Health Action on Climate Change in Canada

Press Release

From: Public Health Agency of Canada

October 25, 2022

Today, my annual report on the state of public health in Canada, entitled Mobilizing Public Health Action on Climate Change in Canada, was tabled in Parliament by the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health.

This year’s report focuses on the health impacts of climate change and the important role that public health systems can play in preventing and reducing these impacts for everyone living in Canada.

Canada is warming at a rate two times faster than the global average, with the north warming three to four times more rapidly. Across our country, weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable and extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity. Whether it is through exposure to heat, violent storms, increased air pollution, or melting ice that floods traditional hunting grounds, climate change has multiple, cascading impacts on our physical and mental health.

Many people across Canada are experiencing these impacts first-hand. At the time of drafting this statement, communities in British Columbia were contending with respiratory issues caused by poor air quality due to late-season wildfires. The intensity of Hurricane Fiona has left communities in Atlantic Canada and Eastern Quebec dealing with property damage and displacement, and associated mental health impacts such as anxiety, grief and distress.

In addition, changing habitats from a warming climate are increasing the spread of tick and mosquito-borne infectious diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus and exacerbating the threat of zoonotic diseases spread between animals and humans across the planet, which elevates the risk of future pandemics.

While no one is immune from the health impacts of climate change, some populations face greater risk of exposure, and are more vulnerable to serious health outcomes. Similar to COVID-19, heat waves have had a disproportionate and devastating impact on elderly people in Canada, causing more than 600 deaths in B.C. during the 2021 heat dome.

Public health: a key ally in climate action

Public health has made tremendous gains over the past century in improving the health and lives of people in Canada and around the world. We must now build on these strengths in collaboration with partners across communities and sectors to better prepare for and respond to what the World Health Organization calls the greatest health threat of our time.

This report demonstrates that a strengthened public health system is well-positioned to be a key partner on climate action through its various functions. Public health can track and prevent the spread of infectious diseases, promote healthier and more resilient communities, and prepare for and respond to health emergencies, including the inevitable impacts of extreme weather events.

This CPHO report calls for putting health at the heart of climate action, and to promote efforts that will lead to significant and almost immediate benefits on our health and the health of our environment. To do this, public health needs to be a key partner at decision-making tables on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Climate action is good for our health

Fundamentally, climate action is public health action. Advocating for more walkable neighbourhoods, where people can cycle and access public transit, promotes positive physical and mental well-being, helps to reduce the burden of cardiac and respiratory disease, and reduces air pollution. Increasing greenspace and tree canopies helps to reduce hot spots and the associated risk of health complications from heat stress, while mitigating greenhouse gas emission.

We must also draw on our experience from the COVID-19 pandemic to respond to the climate crisis. This includes a focus on equity to ensure those most at risk of health impacts from climate change receive the most immediate and tailored support. It also means building strong partnerships across sectors, communities and borders to drive innovative solutions to complex and evolving health threats. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the power of collaboration and a “whole-of-society” approach.

Going forward, we will also have to rethink our place in the natural world. We have much to learn from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples, who have long-recognized the interconnected nature of human, animal, and environmental health. This knowledge has been central to Indigenous identity, resilience and survival and is essential to a healthy and sustainable future for us all.

The time to act is now and to act together

This is a pivotal moment in time. Our collective actions now will determine the magnitude of the future health impacts of climate change, how quickly they occur, and the extent to which our communities and future generations are able to adapt and thrive.

It is time to act boldly and to act together, for the benefit of our health, the health of future generations, and that of our planet.

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