Media briefs

Media brief: The link between climate change and the health of Canadians

Clean Energy Canada is a climate and clean energy program at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University. Through media briefs, we aim to provide journalists with useful factual and contextual information related to Canada’s clean energy transition. Please use this as a resource and let us know if there are any topics that you would like to see for future media briefs.

Climate change is already negatively impacting the health of Canadians, impacts that will become more severe in relation to the extent of warming that occurs. The link between airborne pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels and respiratory health is well-known. But as our climate changes, the effect of altering weather patterns on public health has also been the subject of considerable study, and increasingly, media attention.[i].

In fact, the impact of climate change is such that it has been described as a public health emergency,[ii] and in February this year, representatives from five Canadian health organizations described it as the “greatest public health challenge of the 21st century.[iii] Similarly, the World Health Organization has pronounced it to be the defining health issue of the 21st century.[iv] Medical students in Canada are joining the climate strikes, demanding stronger climate action to address public health issues.[v]

Studies have shown that taking climate action has multiple health benefits, beyond just addressing climate change, “ranging from improved physical activity resulting from active commuting, to reduced respiratory illnesses from decreased air pollution.” [vi]


Below are some of the recent key studies linking climate change to public health. Additionally, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment has produced a summary of the health risks.[vii]

Infectious disease:

Air pollution:


  • The “heat island effect” intensifies temperatures in cities; as more and more Canadians migrate to urban centres, health risks are likely to increase.[xxiii]
  • In Montreal, extreme heat contributed to the premature death of 66 people in 2018[xxiv]
  • Between 2021 and 2050, experts anticipate Toronto will see more than 30 extreme heat days annually.[xxv]
  • A recent study predicts that Canada could see five times more heat-related deaths between 2031 and 2080, compared to 1984 to 2015.[xxvi]


Additional health risks:                                                                                  


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[i] Carrington, Damian, The Guardian, September 17, 2019. “Air pollution particles found on foetal side of placentas – study.”

[ii]The Canadian Public Health Association, “Climate change is a public health emergency”.  April 5, 2019.

[iii] The Canadian Public Health Association ,“Health Professionals to Federal Political Parties: Action Needed to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change.” Febuary 5, 2019

[iv] Chan, Margaret. The World Health Organization. “Climate change and health: preparing for unprecedented challenges.” December 10 2007.

[v] Letourneau S, Liang K and Hackett F, The Province. “Sasha Letourneau, Kevin Liang and Finola Hackett: Medical students take a stand on climate change.” September 16, 2019.

[vi] Smith KR, Woodward A, Campbell-Lendrum D, et al. Human health: impacts, adaptation, and co-benefits. In: Field CB, Barros VR, Dokken DJ, et al., editors. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. London (UK): Cambridge University Press; 2014. p. 709-54.

[vii] The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.“How Climate Change Affects Your Health.”

[viii]Morgan Stanley, “Biopharma, Climate Change and the Rise of Infectious Disease.” August 28, 2019.

[ix]Ogden NH, St-Onge L, Barker IK, Brazeau S, Bigras-Poulin M, Charron DF, Francis CM, Heagy A, Lindsay LR, Maarouf A, Michel P, Milord F, O’Callaghan CJ, Trudel L, Thompson RA. “Risk maps for range expansion of the Lyme disease vector, Ixodes scapularis, in Canada now and with climate change.” Int J Health Geogr. 2008 May 22;7:24. doi: 10.1186/1476-072X-7-24.

[x] “Ghazani, Maryam et al. “Temperature Variability and Gastrointestinal Infections: A Review of Impacts and Future Perspectives.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 15,4 766. 16 Apr. 2018, doi:10.3390/ijerph15040766

[xi]Craig, Robin Kundis, Warming Oceans, Coastal Diseases, and Climate Change Public Health Adaptation (June 30, 2019). Sea Grant Law & Policy Journal (2020, Forthcoming). Available at SSRN:

[xii] Science Daily, “Changing climate may affect animal-to-human disease transfer.” May 1, 2019.

[xiii] Government of Canada, Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada. “Science Narrative: Climate Change Impacts on the Health of Canadians.” April 2017.

[xiv] Health Canada. “Health Impacts of Air Pollution in Canada: An estimate of premature mortalities.” November 2017.

[xv] Howard C, Rose C, Rivers N. “Lancet Countdown 2018 Report: Briefing for Canadian Policymakers.” Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Public Health Association, The Lancet. November 2018.

[xvi] Claire L. Leiser, Heidi A. Hanson, Kara Sawyer, Jacob Steenblik, Ragheed Al-Dulaimi, Troy Madsen, Karen Gibbins, James M. Hotaling, Yetunde Oluseye Ibrahim, James A. VanDerslice, Matthew Fuller. “Acute effects of air pollutants on spontaneous pregnancy loss: a case-crossover study.” Fertility and Sterility, Volume 111, Issue 2,


[xvii]Bové, Hannelore, Bongaerts, Eva, Slenders, Eli, Bijnens, Esmée M., Saenen, Nelly D., Gyselaers, Wilfried, Van Eyken, Peter, Plusquin, Michelle, Roeffaers, Maarten B. J., Ameloot, Marcel, Nawrot, Tim S., 2019, Ambient black carbon particles reach the fetal side of human placenta, Nature Communications, 3866,

[xviii] Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Climate Change Toolkit for Health Professionals: Module 3 – Climate Change Health Impacts across Canada. April 2019.

[xix] Government of Canada. “Environment Canada. Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators.” November 2006.

[xx] Séguin, Jacinthe. Government of Canada. Health Canada. “Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity.” 2008.

[xxi] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Environmental Health. “Drought and Your Health.”

[xxii]Benmarhnia, Tarik. Mathlouthi, Fatma. Smargiassi, Audrey. Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) Chair on Air Pollution, Climate Change and Health. “Health Impacts of Particles from Forest Fires.” 2014.

[xxiii] Health Canada. Water, Air and Climate Change Bureau. Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch. “Heat Alert and Response Systems to Protect Health: Best Practices Guidebook.” 2012.

[xxiv]Lowrie,Megan, The Canadian Press, “Montreal unveils plan to respond to heat waves after 66 deaths last year”, July 4, 2019

[xxv] Prairie Climate Centre. Climate Change and Canada’s Cities. “Climate Atlas of Toronto.” March 2019

[xxvi] Guo, Yuming et al, PLOS|Medicine, “ Quantifying excess deaths related to heatwaves under climate change scenarios: A multicountry time series modelling study”, July 31, 2018.

[xxvii]Henderson S., Johnston F. “Measures of forest fire smoke exposure and their associations with respiratory health outcomes.” Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2012 Jun;12(3):221-7. doi: 10.1097/ACI.0b013e328353351f.

[xxviii]National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. “Wildfire Smoke and Health.” Accessed Septemeber 2019.

[xxix] Henderson S., Johnston F. “Measures of forest fire smoke exposure and their associations with respiratory health outcomes.” Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2012 Jun;12(3):221-7. doi: 10.1097/ACI.0b013e328353351f.

[xxx]Dodd, W., Scott, P., Howard, C. et al.  “Lived experience of a record wildfire season in the Northwest Territories, Canada.” Can J Public Health (2018) 109: 327.

[xxxi]McCue, Duncan. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Growing ‘ecological grief’ is the mental health cost of climate change.” October 21, 2018.

[xxxii] Hayes, Katie et al. “Climate change and mental health: risks, impacts and priority actions.” International journal of mental health systems vol. 12 28. 1 Jun. 2018, doi:10.1186/s13033-018-0210-6

[xxxiii] Government of Alberta. Alberta Health, Health Standards, Quality and Performance Division. Analytics and Performance Reporting Branch. Health A. “Impact of Wildfires on the Mental Health of Fort McMurray Residents: Neurotic Disorders, Daily Physician Visits within an Emergency Department 2015 vs. 2016.” 2016.

[xxxiv]Government of Canada, Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada. “Science Narrative: Climate Change Impacts on the Health of Canadians.” April 2017.

[xxxv] D’Amato, Gennaro et al. “Effects on asthma and respiratory allergy of Climate change and air pollution.” Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine. December 22, 2015.

[xxxvi] Government of Canada, Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada. “Science Narrative: Climate Change Impacts on the Health of Canadians.” April 2017.

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