The toll of climate change on the health of Canadians will cost hundreds of billions of dollars: report
TORONTO – Beyond its environmental threat, climate change is endangering public health in Canada in a way that will have significant human and financial costs, according to a new report.
The report, which was released on Wednesday by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices (CICC), estimates that the impact of climate change on health in Canada will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, while dramatically increasing hospitalizations and premature deaths due to weather problems, based on their current number.
Ryan Ness, CICC’s director of adaptation, told CTVNews.ca that without immediate action, climate change will also leave Canada with a “public health crisis”, the consequences of which will be borne disproportionately by those who are already grappling with a disproportionate share. inequalities in health.
A 2016 study found that the difference in risk of premature death for a poor Canadian woman and a wealthy Canadian woman had widened by 40% over the previous 25 years.
“It’s not a technical or environmental crisis. It’s a crisis of fairness and making sure everyone has a fair chance,” Ness said by phone Tuesday.
The consequences of global warming are expected to impact human health in a number of ways, ranging from an increase in foodborne illnesses to longer and more severe allergy seasons. The CICC report focuses on three specific threats: warmer temperatures, degraded air quality and an increased prevalence of Lyme disease.
Regarding Lyme disease, scientists are already sounding the alarm on a growing number of cases, which they say are caused by warmer winters, making it easier for ticks carrying the disease to survive in urban areas .
Health Canada reported 2,636 cases of Lyme disease in 2019, 11 times more than 10 years earlier. The CICC report predicts that number will rise to 8,500 cases per year by mid-century, with associated annual costs to the health care system of $ 3 million.
Although this figure is relatively low, the report estimates that the overall impact of climate change on health is much greater. He says the direct costs to the health care system will run into the billions and the economic losses will run into the tens of billions. Premature deaths, effects on mental health and damage to the quality of life of Canadians – increasing food insecurity in the North, for example – will drive the price up further.
In the worst-case scenario, lost productivity alone would cost the Canadian economy nearly $ 15 billion a year by the turn of the century, with the increase in extreme hot days during the summer leading to a reduction. hours of work equivalent to the loss of 62,000 full-time jobs. Industries where the majority of the work is done outdoors or in hard-to-cool spaces will be hardest hit.
At best, the report estimates heat-related hospitalization rates will double by 2100.
Ian Culbert, who wrote the preface to the report and is the executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, says the report shows that the federal government’s efforts to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 will also bring benefits to the community. health of Canadians.
This is important, he said, because while the public often prefers to push governments to act on issues they see as more urgent than climate change, the math changes when it is linked to health. individual.
“It’s really part of that larger picture of changing our societal expectations of governments, so that the necessary investments and policy changes can be made,” Culbert told CTVNews.ca by phone Tuesday.
“We know from the research we’ve done that when people start to associate the health effects of climate change with climate change, then it takes on new meaning and importance.”
The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates this, Culbert said, with Canadians attaching new value to public health professionals now that their work has a greater impact on everyday life.
The report offers four recommendations to governments, all around the themes of explicitly considering the impacts of climate change on health when making decisions and funding more research on the effects of climate change on the health of Canadians. .
Ness said he would like governments to tackle both the “symptoms” of climate change – poor air quality, longer heat waves, et cetera – and the root causes that make it harder. for some Canadians to be healthy in any environment. , such as income security and lack of housing.
Heat waves, for example, already have a disproportionate impact on the health of older people, those with pre-existing health conditions, and those who cannot afford air conditioning or adequate ventilation. If the heat waves increase in frequency, as they are expected to happen, Ness said it will be these groups that will “bear the brunt even more” in the future.
“Preparing for climate change requires thinking beyond specific types of impacts, not just building dikes to raise sea levels or building these cooling centers for hot days,” he said. -he declares.
“It’s about making sure people have the resources they need to be resilient, to take care of themselves and others in an increasingly hostile climate.”