Climate Change, Human health and Adaptation – Highlights from the CICC Report

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, June 17, 2021

A new report prepared by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices (CICC), The Health Costs of Climate Change and How Canada Can Adapt, Prepare and Save Lives, identifies the heavy toll of climate change on human health and finds Canada poorly prepared to save lives.

The Heavy Health Costs of Climate Change

Recognizing that there are many different ways in which climate-related impacts can and will affect human health in Canada, the report estimates the health-related costs associated with three specific impacts for which data and correlations were available: increasing levels of ground-level ozone; the increasing incidence of Lyme disease; and increasing temperatures.

The health cost estimates were produced for a low-emissions scenario that envisions global temperatures increasing by 2.5 degrees C by the end of the century, and for a high-emissions scenario that envisions global temperatures increasing by 4.5 degrees C by the end of the century.  The estimates were produced for a mid-century scenario (in the 2050s) and for an end of century scenario (2080s). 

It is estimated that by the 2050s:

  • ozone-related deaths valued at $87 billion per year could occur;
  • increasing temperatures could increase heat-related hospitalization rates by 21% and produce in healthcare costs ranging from $3 to $3.9 billion per year; and
  • the number of Lyme disease cases in Canada could increase to about 8,500 per year costing the healthcare system about $3 million per year under a low-emissions scenario;

Under a high-emissions scenario, it is estimated that by the 2080s:

  • ozone-related deaths valued at $246 billion per year could occur;
  • heat-related deaths valued at $8.5 billion per year could occur; and
  • increasing temperatures could result in the almost $15 billion per year in lost time.

The health costs of wildfires in Canada were not assessed by the authors of the CICC report but they cite a recent study which estimates that exposure to wildfire smoke between 2013 and 2018 (excluding 2016 – the year of the Fort McMurray wildfire) produced health-related impacts in Canada valued at $4.7 to $20.8 billion per year. With wildfires increasing in frequency and intensity across Canada in response to global warming, smoke-related health impacts can be expected to increase over time.

The Unquantifiable Health Costs are Not Insignificant

The report’s authors were unable to quantify the impact of climate change on mental health, but given the findings of early research in this field, they predict that weather-related disasters and the accelerated changes in landscapes and ecosystems will have a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of people across the country. They note that productivity losses associated with depression and anxiety in Canada are expensive; costing about $34 billion and $17 billion respectively already.  They expect that climate-related impacts will add significantly to these numbers.

The authors note that climate change will have impacts on many communities that are difficult to quantify. For example, in northern communities, where melting permafrost threatens homes, drinking water supplies, harvesting, and access to medical care and services, climate-related impacts are expected to take a heavy toll on the cultural and spiritual life of Indigenous Peoples, while also increasing food insecurity.

Lastly, that authors conclude that Canada is not properly prepared for the climate changes that are now inevitable. While climate-related impacts such as floods and wildfires threaten the country’s hospitals, clinics, and emergency response facilities, less than 20% of health authorities have assessed the vulnerability of their healthcare facilities to climate-related risks.

Climate Change will Amplify Health Inequities

The report emphasizes that similar to COVID-19, climate change will affect everyone in Canada, but will have a more significant impact on disadvantaged populations. The social determinants of health such as racism, poverty, and geographic remoteness are known to increase health hazards and poor health outcomes for many people across Canada. The report expalins how climate-related impacts such as increasing levels of air pollution and extreme heat can have a disproportionate impact on the health of disadvantaged populations.  Without adaptation, the authors conclude, “the climate change impacts on Canada’s horizon will worsen the health divide.”  

Canada has a Health Adaptation Deficit

Using well-researched evidence, the report’s authors assert that “government policies and actions have not kept pace with the scale of emerging climate change risks to health and well-being”.  Over the last four years, only 3% of climate change adaptation funding and 0.3% of all climate change funding at a federal level has been directed to adaptation programs designed to protect health.

The report’s authors conclude that health adaptation programs need to be directed towards two types of actions; to those that treat the symptoms and to those that address the root causes. Actions that address the symptoms include those designed to mitigate specific climate-related health hazards – providing cooling spaces for homeless people during heat waves for example. Actions that address root causes include policies and investments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and those that address the social determinants of health that create health inequities.  

Report Recommendations

The report includes four broad recommendations:

  • All orders of government should implement health adaptation policies to address both the symptoms and root causes of climate-related health threats;
  • Canada’s emerging national adaptation strategy should map all key adaptation policy levers across government departments and orders of government against top climate health impact areas;
  • Central agencies in federal, provincial, and territorial governments should explicitly incorporate health resilience into climate lenses to inform cost-benefit analyses and policy decisions; and
  • Governments should invest in research on emerging, unknown, and local climate change health impacts.

Reference: Clark, D. G., R. Ness, D. Coffman, D. Beugin. 2021. The Health Costs of Climate Change: How Canada Can Adapt, Prepare, and Save Lives. Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. Click here to access the report.