It’s About PublicHealth: A Canadian Approach to Climate Change318.
864.98 CurrentIssues in Policy AnalysisRobert Carlin2017 Johns HopkinsFall Institute in Health Policy and Management Problem Formulation Anthropogenic climatechange is the result of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that leadto a greater absorption of infrared radiation from sunlight by the earth’satmosphere (Agency, 2017a). This is referred to as the greenhouse effect (Agency, 2017a).
The primary gases responsible for this change are carbon dioxidefollowed by methane (G. o. Canada, 2017). Globally, certain types of industrial development are the mainanthropogenic sources of these gases. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is largelydue to fossil fuel use for energy production, transport, and industrialproduction (Patz, Frumkin, Holloway, Vimont, & Haines, 2014).
However, deforestation may also contribute to the global burden ofcarbon dioxide (Warren & Lemmen, 2014). Methane is derived from agricultural or waste managementactivities in addition to emissions from fossil fuel related industries (Agency, 2017c). In Canada, the primary sources of greenhouse gases are the oil andgas sector and the transportation sector of the economy (E. a. C. C. Canada, 2017).
Additionally, these same sectors are the main sectors responsiblefor increases in Canadian greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2015 (E. a. C. C.
Canada, 2017). This contrasts with decreases seen for both the heavy industry andthe electricity sectors during the same time period, despite coal still accountingfor most greenhouse gases emitted by the electricity sector (E. a. C. C.
Canada, 2017). Climate changedue to the greenhouse effect leads to increased weather extremes related to heat,cloud cover, and precipitation and it also leads to altered climate patterns (Warren & Lemmen, 2014). Global warming is accentuated in Canada where a global 2 degreeCelsius increase translates to a 3 to 4 degree Celsius increase for Canada (Canada, 2015). Canadian temperature trends from 1948 to 2012 have shown anincrease in all areas of the country with the most pronounced increases seen inthe northwest of the country – Annex 1 (Canada, 2015). This has resulted in more less arctic sea ice, heat waves, fewercold spells, and more precipitation in large parts of the country – Annex 1 (Canada, 2015). There are numerous downstream effects of these climate changes onecosystems, natural resources, water, food production, built environments, and humanhealth some of which are outlined below. The impacts ofclimate change on Canadian ecosystems are diverse. Changes in climate patterns areadded to the already existing stressors of environmental pollution and fragmentationof the natural landscape (Warren & Lemmen, 2014).
These factors threaten biodiversity within Canadian ecosystemswith the concern that species may be unable to adapt to such accelerated environmentalchanges (Warren & Lemmen, 2014). For example, Canadian forests in British Columbia have already sufferedfrom the introduction of the mountain pine beetle which was possible due towarming temperatures (Warren & Lemmen, 2014). In Quebec, rising temperatures are predicted to result in anorthward shift of species by about 40 to 70 kilometers per decade withsignificant shifts predicted within northern Boreal forests (Ouranos, 2015).
In more northerly environments in Quebec, increasing temperaturesare already affecting caribou and certain fish populations due to habitatchanges and changes in freeze-thaw cycles (Ouranos, 2015).Increases inprecipitation are observed and also expected in the future in much of Canada alongwith earlier spring melts and river ice break-up (Canada, 2015). The growing season in southern agricultural regions may increase,although the impact of extreme weather events including droughts and theintroduction of novel pests due to warming temperatures may offset some ofthese gains (Warren & Lemmen, 2014). Floods are the most common and the costliest natural disasters observedin Canada with many urban areas located near to fresh water systems and such climatechanges posing a threat to these built environments (Séguin et al.
, 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014). The increased frequency of storm surges as a result of rising sealevels and stronger weather systems represents a threat to coastal areas (Séguin et al., 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014). Melting permafrost threatens northern infrastructure due to theresulting instability of underlying soil structures (Séguin et al., 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014). These environmental issues pose a clear risk to infrastructuresthat are necessary transportation, community water supply, and electricalsystems to name a few examples (Séguin et al., 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014).
Human health isdirectly and indirectly impacted by climate change. High temperatures may leadto dehydration and death, particularly in vulnerable individuals (Séguin et al., 2008; Watts et al.
, 2017). Deteriorationin air quality may also lead to poorer health outcomes in some individuals (Agency, 2017b) Extreme weather events and accompanying disasters may lead to significantmorbidity and mortality including mental health disorders such as depressionand posttraumatic stress (Patz et al., 2014; Séguin et al., 2008). The introduction of new pathogens into the environment such asLyme disease and West Nile virus as well as changes in the presence of certainallergens in the environment represent some indirect impacts of climate onhuman health (Séguin et al.
, 2008). Although some other northern countries expect decreased mortalitydue cold weather events as result of warming, this may not occur in Canadawhere no increase in mortality is usually observed with cold weather due toexisting adaptation measures (Séguin et al., 2008; Vardoulakis & Heaviside,2012). Otherhealth impacts that result from a combination upstream determinants oraccumulated hazards such as those described above may also result in poorermental and physical health outcomes (Séguin et al., 2008).
The upstreamdeterminants of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are equallycomplex. Emissions are partly dependent on individual lifestyle choices. Forexample, the cumulative decisions of individuals around activities using fossilfuels contribute to global emissions of carbon dioxide. In order to addressthis issue, these individuals are expected to make a decision for the collectivegood without necessarily seeing an immediate tangible benefit. This gap betweenan individual’s activities and perceived global impacts is captured in thefollowing statement concerning climate change, “I don’t think that it isbecause of my lawn mower” (Silverman, 2017). In Canada, roughly 80% of people are using private transportduring their work commute and even urban centers such as Montreal have about70% of the population still using private transport for this commute (Association, 2017).
This contrasts with percentages in cities such as Tokyo (10%),Berlin (30%), and London (40%) (Association, 2017). Most Canadians now live in urban centers and many municipalitiesare now looking at improving and protecting active forms of transportation toinfluence individual decisions (P. H. A.
o. Canada, 2017).Fortunately, a growing number of Canadians believe that globalwarming is happening and is caused by human activity. In 2014, 63% of Canadianthough that the science was conclusive that global warming was happening andcaused mostly by human activity (Institute, 2014) and 86% of the population was at least somewhat concerned aboutclimate change (Institute, 2014). The top reasons for concernwere what it might mean for children and future generations, disappearance ofwildlife species, greater scarcity of water and more frequent droughts, as wellas more extreme weather such as storms and floods (Institute, 2014). The greenhousegas emissions of the electricity sector are also influenced by individual behaviors.
However, it also determined by government policies and past decisions that havelead to choosing fossil fuels as an important power source (E. a. C. C.
Canada, 2017). A national decision to phase out coal for use in producing power by2030 should reduce this sector as contributor to global climate change, althoughcoal is still traded with other countries (N. R. Canada, 2017) There aregeographic or jurisdictional variations in greenhouse gas emissions in Canadawhere British Columbia and Quebec have relatively low and stable outputs due toreliance on hydroelectricity (E. a. C.
C. Canada, 2017). Ontario has emissions that are higher than other provinces due tothe presence of large industrial manufacturing in the province and Alberta hasthe highest and increasing emissions due to the oil and gas sector produced forexport markers (E. a. C. C. Canada, 2017). Due to this variation across the country, national policies topreduce emissions have the potential to aggravate existing regional frictions ifthey do not account for the unique economic contexts of each province.
The currentparty in power at the federal level in Canada is the Liberal Party of Canada.They signed onto the Paris Agreement with a commitment to reducing greenhousegases and a goal to keep global temperature rise over the next century to lessthan 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (Change, 2017b). The previous federal government under the Conservative Party ofCanada withdrew from the Kyoto protocol that had set reduction targets forgreenhouse gas emissions (Change, 2017a). A cap-and-trade system exists between the provinces of Quebec andOntario as well as the State of California for the industrial and electricitysectors as well as fossil fuel distributors (Quebec, 2017). As such, there exists a fair degree political will at different levelsof government to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Trade isimportant to the Canadian economy and our top three trading partners (UnitedStates of America, European Union, and China) have had different contributions topast greenhouse gas emissions as well as to climate change controls. Currently,mineral fuels and oils and motor vehicles account for a significant proportionof Canadian exports to both the world and the United States of America (A.
P. F. o. Canada, 2017; Representative, 2017). Therefore, a contribution to the global reduction of greenhousegases also requires a transition in some of the country’s main economicactivities and trade. In fact, the current government has proposed thatenvironmental and human rights issues be incorporated into international tradedeals (Economist, 2017). Although this approach has been acceptable to European tradingpartners, it has not garnered favor with China or complete acceptance by theUnited States of America. As a final pointof context, some have argued that the apparent passivity of citizens andsocieties to the massive and imminent crisis of climate results from thereification of current neoliberal world market systems (Browne, 2017).
A considerable barrier needs to be overcome for global capitalistelites benefiting from the current system to be able to recognize the destabilizationthat may be introduced by concurrent climate change induced economic,political, and ecological crises (Browne, 2017).Vulnerability In parallel withthe global reality that those who have benefitted the least from past carbonemitting activities are often the most at risk for the negative effects ofclimate change, Canadian regions that are at greatest risk for changes in theirecosystems are not the areas of the country that have been historically responsiblefor large carbon emissions (Canada, 2015). Indigenouspopulations are particularly at risk of the negative health impacts fromclimate change, especially those in northern areas (Séguin et al.
, 2008). Many communities already face problems of food insecurity withsome reliance on traditional or country food (Séguin et al., 2008). The harvesting of these foods depends on a relatively stable ecosystemto support both existing flora and fauna (Séguin et al., 2008). However, this stability ispredicted to change significantly in the upcoming years (Séguin et al., 2008).
Changing weather patternsalso make it more difficult to pursue traditional activities leading to morehunting injuries and a threat to cultural continuity within communities (Séguin et al., 2008). All of these changes are occurring in populations that havealready faced pressures from rapid social, cultural, political, and economicchange (Séguin et al., 2008). Canada also facesan aging population over the coming decades with over 20% of the populationpredicted to be over the age of 65 years by 2030 (Séguin et al.
, 2008). Seniors are at increased risk for the impacts of climate changesuch as extreme heat exposures, air pollution, and natural disasters fromextreme weather events (Séguin et al., 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014). Although children account for a smaller proportion of the overallpopulation, they show similar increased risks to the exposures just described (Séguin et al.
, 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014). Of note, indigenous populations have a large proportion ofchildren who are at risk not only because of their age, but also because of thefactors described above for indigenous communities (Séguin et al., 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014).
Similarly, people experiencing adverse socioeconomic conditions orwith existing health problems are also more vulnerable to climate change (Séguin et al., 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014). Finally, communities may also be vulnerable due to the aging ofcritical infrastructure or due to their geographic isolation (Séguin et al., 2008; Warren & Lemmen, 2014).Overall, apopulation’s vulnerability to climate change is related to their risk ofexposure to climate hazards, their sensitivity to its impacts, and theiradaptive capacity (Séguin et al., 2008).Priorities for Public Health Fromthis brief overview, a few key priorities emerge.
In terms of mitigation, Canada needs to moveaway from a fossil fuel based economy. This needs to be done in a timely way toachieve global goals aimed at protecting our ecosystems and livingenvironments. However, transitions to new areas of economic and social activityneed to be developed to ensure the stability and health of communities.Although the public is generally supportive of measures, an ongoing dialogueneeds to be maintained to ensure continued public support during a period oftransition and rapid change. Industry also needs to prepare for this shift inopportunities. Interms of adaptation, communities need to prepare for more extreme weatherevents. This involves emergency planning to address these events as well asplanning to adjust to increasing heat extremes with an attention to measures thatprotect populations who have been identified as particularly vulnerable.Infrastructure needs to take into account the anticipated future stresses relatedto climate change.
Northern regions and indigenous populations of Canada needto receive extra support to address the multiple stresses and accumulated risksintroduced by climate change. Recommendations 1. Invest in public health climate changeresearch and collaboration (Watts et al., 2017).2. Ensure transparent reporting bygovernment departments and ministries for all activities linked to climatechange. 3. Ensure implementation and follow-up fromthe Paris Agreement (Watts et al.
, 2017).4. Phase out coal-fired power production by2030 (Association, 2017; Watts et al., 2017).
5. Expand the renewal energy sector with atleast two thirds of power derived from non-emitting sources by 2030 (Association, 2017; Watts et al., 2017).6. Include health impact assessments aspart of the environmental assessment process for all development projects (Association, 2017).
7. Switch to active commuting and move awayfrom fossil fuel dependent transport and develop a National Strategy forcommunities (Association, 2017; Watts et al., 2017).
8. Emphasize plant-based proteins indietary recommendations (Association, 2017).9. Healthcare systems should serve asexamples of low carbon workplaces by tracking and reducing greenhouse gasemissions (Association, 2017).10. Planning to cope with severe weatherevents including extreme heat, floods, fires, and coastal surge should befunded and shared (Association, 2017).
11. Interventions described above shouldcalculate healthcare cost savings in relation to costs of the proposedinterventions (Association, 2017).12. Invest and support adaptationstrategies for indigenous and northern populations impacted by climate changewith involvement of local populations (Association, 2017).Annex 1 A. Canadian Temperature Trends – 1948 to 2012Source: https://www.canada.
ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/climate-change/science.html B. September arctic sea ice extent in 1984versus 2012Source: https://toolkit.
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