Urgent action is needed to protect homes, clean air and build resilience, according to a recent report published by the World Health Organization.

The international authors argue we are at a moment of overlapping planetary health emergencies: COVID-19 and climate change. Both have their origins at the intersection of humanity and the rest of the natural world, both exacerbate pre-existing health inequities and both have the ability to drastically challenge health systems and economies.

The report, “Global estimates of the need for rehabilitation based on the Global Burden of Disease study 2019,” was published in the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, an international collaboration among 38 leading academic institutions and United Nations agencies.

The report provides compelling data that indicates that as the globe warms humans are experiencing increasing heat emergencies, wildfires, severe weather, trouble with food yields and potential for novel infectious diseases.

The report implores governments to “multisolve” and manage COVID-19 and climate change at the same time, looking for the ideal solutions where a single measure can deliver the triple-win of improving public health, contributing to a sustainable economy and reducing the drivers of future crises.

The Canadian policy brief associated with the report provides specific recommendations:

  • Protecting Homes – The report shows a record 2,700 heat-related deaths occurred among people over the age of 65 in Canada in 2018. Globally, the last two decades have seen a 59 per cent increase in heat-related mortality in older people. Many Canadians have had their living circumstances made precarious through COVID-19. In its fall budget update, the federal government announced $1 billion in funding, through the Rapid Housing Initiative, to be used for the construction of modular housing and affordable housing units. The report recommends that the projects funded through this and other federal construction and retrofit programs should be evaluated for their location relative to flood-prone areas, their ability to ensure adequate ventilation and air filtration to cope with heat emergencies and wildfire smoke, and their alignment with net-zero goals.
  • Clean the Air – The Lancet report shows that in 2018 there were 7,200 premature deaths in Canada related to fine particulate air pollution from human-caused sources. This is four times higher than the number of deaths from transport accidents. The largest portion, found by the Lancet to be over 30 per cent, was due to emissions from households, such as burning fuel for heating. That means that energy efficient retrofits can save lives. Pollution from cars, trucks and other transport was shown in the report to be responsible for 17 per cent of deaths due to fine particulates in 2018. It’s also responsible for 30 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions. Investments in zero-emissions vehicle infrastructure and transport are beneficial for health and sustainability. Active transportation also reduces mortality rates and disease.
  • Building Resilience – The report recommends increasing the resilience of health systems. In addition to ensuring health-care structures are prepared for floods and fires with regard to siting, adequate ventilation systems and more, there should also be improvements to the supply chains. Apply lessons learned through the pandemic to have producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccines more readily available. Co-ordinated work between the public and the private sector, potentially including the creation of new crown corporations, could help ensure supplies of critical supplies.

To read the complete report, click here.

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