The Health & Economic Costs of Climate Change in Canada

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) has released its latest report on climate change.  This report  is focused on the economic impacts of climate change.  It has estimated that climate change could cost Canada $5 billion per year in 2020 and between $21 billion and $43 billion per year by the 2050s.

These cost estimates are based on a partial assessment of climate change’s impact on the timber industry, the coastal areas, and human health in Canada. The authors estimate that, by the 2050s, climate change could cost:

  • The timber industry between $2 billion and $17 billion per year because of timber lost to pests, fires and changes in forest growth;
  • Coastal areas $1 billion to $8 billion per year because of flooding; and
  • Billions of dollars per year in lives lost prematurely because of poor air quality and extreme heat in each of the four cities examined  (using the “value of a statistical life” metric which places an economic value on each life lost).

When the NRTEE examined climate change’s impact on the health of Canadians in four cities in Canada – Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal – it estimated that climate change could increase the heat- and air pollution-related deaths by:

  • 3 to 6 deaths per 100,000 people per year in the 2020s;
  • 5 to 10 deaths per 100,000 per year by the 2050s; and
  • 7 to 17 deaths per 100,000 per year by the 2080s.

The NRTEE estimated that, by the 2080s, deaths related to higher temperatures and poorer air quality attributable to climate change could account for 1% to 2% of total deaths within the cities examined. The report notes, for comparison, that kidney disease was responsible for 1.7% of deaths in 2007, while influenza and pneumonia were responsible for 2.3% of deaths.

The NRTEE estimated that the increased air pollution-related hospital admissions and emergency room visits, attributable to climate change, could increase health care costs by $3 million to $11 million per year in Toronto alone in the 2050s.

These cost estimates do not include the health impacts associated with: extreme weather events such as floods, ice storms, or tornadoes; vector-borne disease such as Lyme’s disease; or water-borne diseases; all of which are expected to increase in Canada in response to climate change.

The authors also examined the costs and benefits associated with a few climate change adaptation strategies: heat alert and response systems; the widespread installation of green roofs; and investments in pollution control for ozone precursors.

The NRTEE reported that Philadelphia’s heat wave warning system, which costs US$210,000 per year to operate, has prevented approximately 117 death over a 3-year period, producing $800 million in health benefits (using the value of a statistical life approach).

The NRTEE found that the costs associated with the widespread installation of green roofs ($7.3 billion between 2050 and 2059) did not outweigh the heat-related health benefits that would result from that action ($2.1 to $2.4 billion).  However, it did note that green roofs could be considered less expensive than conventional roofs on a long-time horizon if the overall benefits of green roofs were added in (i.e. the positive impacts on storm water, energy use, air quality-related health impacts, as well heat-related health impacts ).

The NRTEE found that if investments were made in pollution control to offset the increase in air levels of ozone expected with climate change ($0.7 to $3.1 billion between 2050 and 2059), the health benefits ($3 to $4.8 billion) would outweigh those costs by 1.4 to 4.5.  The report notes that this adaptation strategy would provide a number of other co-benefits for the natural environment and human health as well.

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE).  2011.  Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada.

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