Governments can save lives and minimize costs by investing proactively in measures that improve people’s health and security in the face of rising climate impacts.
As the world takes stock of how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the most vulnerable people, a new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices warns that climate change will similarly worsen health inequities and significantly increase costs to Canada’s health system and economy without targeted government action.
Published today, The Health Costs of Climate Change: How Canada Can Adapt, Prepare, and Save Lives finds that climate change represents a significant public health threat that will disproportionately harm those most vulnerable.
Assessing a range of possible impacts under both low- and high-emissions scenarios, the report finds that the impacts of climate change could cost Canada’s healthcare system billions of dollars and reduce economic activity by tens of billions of dollars over the coming decades.
Adding the value of lost quality of life and premature death, the societal costs of climate change impacts on health will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.
The report concludes that responding effectively to climate-related health threats will require Canadian policy makers to expand their focus beyond considering climate and health policy in isolation, and offers recommendations to support prioritizing policy and investment that addresses the social and economic root causes of poor health and health inequity.
The average number of dangerously hot days (days above the threshold for heat-related deaths) are projected to range from 75 to 100 days each year, on average, by later this century. That’s the equivalent of between ten and 14 straight weeks of dangerously hot days each summer.
As temperatures increase, ground-level ozone (a component of urban smog) is projected to worsen under all scenarios. Towards the end of the century, the report estimates that ground-level ozone could cause over a quarter of a million people per decade to be hospitalized or die prematurely, with an annual cost of about $250 billion.
Climate change has already increased the frequency and severity of wildfires across the country, resulting in widespread air pollution and economic devastation in affected areas, and the impacts of wildfires on air quality and human health are expected to worsen in many regions.
Under the high-emissions scenario, climate change will lead to a projected loss of 128 million hours of work annually by the end of the century due to heat impacts on productivity. This is the equivalent of 62,000 full-time jobs lost, or $14.8 billion per year in lost productivity.
In addition to the estimated damages, the costs of health-related climate impacts that are difficult to measure today may far exceed those considered in this report. Climate change is likely to impact people’s mental health, lead to ecosystem changes, and negatively impact cultures and ways of life. These losses may not be on balance sheets or in government budgets, but to overlook them risks ignoring some of the most critical impacts of climate change on health and well-being.
According toEric J. Mang, Co-Chair, Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century “the scientific consensus is clear: without rapid mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, the public health effects will only intensify in the years to come. Fortunately, many of the policies needed to fight climate change could also produce health benefits, reduce health care costs, and improve social cohesion and equity in our communities. This report underscores that climate change disproportionately harms the most disadvantaged populations. Policymakers must consider options that have a triple aim of reducing the impact of climate change, improving health outcomes and reducing health inequities.