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, according to a new report on the cost of climate change.

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.

The report, 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.

“Good health doesn’t start in the doctor’s office or the emergency room. It starts in our homes, our jobs, our communities and by proactively adapting to the effects of climate change,” said Ryan Ness, adaptation research director for the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. “Investing in improving the social, economic and environmental factors that determine our health will save lives and improve quality of life for generations to come.”

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.

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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.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have seen the importance of robust and proactive public health measures. They have also seen that the most disadvantaged populations bear the greatest burden in a public health emergency. What is true for COVID-19 is true for climate change,” said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

“Climate change is a public health emergency and must be treated as such. This report underscores the importance of governments investing today in proactive initiatives to protect people’s health and well-being.”

Overview of key points:

  • Hot Climate: 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 10 and 14 straight weeks of dangerously hot days each summer.
  • Ozone Damage: 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.
  • Wildfire Risks: 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.
  • Lost Productivity: 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.
  • Ecosystem and Well-being Impacts: 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.
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