Clean Energy Canada | Media brief: The link between climate change and the health of Canadians
September 20, 2019

Clean Energy Canada is a
climate and clean energy program at the
Morris J. Wosk Centre for
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:

  • A recent Morgan Stanley report concludes that warming
    temperatures will increase the risk of contracting an infectious disease in an
    additional one-billion people over the coming 50 years.[viii]
  • Due to warmer winters, cases of Lyme disease
    increased more than 300% between 2009 and 2015. Without prompt treatment, Lyme disease
    can lead to paralysis, arthritis, and in some cases death.[ix]
  • Temperature increases are linked to increases in gastrointestinal
    like salmonella, from food and water contamination, while warming oceans have been
    shown to promote algal blooms and bacteria that can affect human
  • There is evidence that
    changing environments due to climate change is affecting instances of animal-to-human
    disease transfer, like bird flu.[xii][xiii]

Air pollution:

  • Fossil fuel combustion produces fine-particulate air pollution,
    which leads to the premature death of an estimated 14,400 people across
  • Fine-particulate air pollution costs Canada overall
    about $53.5 billion in health-related costs per year.[xv]
  • Air pollution has been shown to be especially harmful during
    pregnancy and can increase risks of
    with recent research suggesting particles of pollution
    can cross the placental barrier and damage the fetus.[xvii]
  • Climate change will result in warmer, longer, and drier summers,
    which will increase air pollution
    risks from forest fires, dust storms, and smog.[xviii]
  • While particulate air pollution remains the single largest
    overall threat to respiratory health, a multitude of other climate-related
    factors also degrade air quality,[xix]

    • Pollen from changing
      growing seasons.[xx]
    • Dust from droughts.[xxi]
    • Smoke from wildfires.[xxii]


  • 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]


  • Wildfires have exacerbated heart and
    lung conditions, and in recent summers have kept thousands of Canadians
  • Multiple studies have
    associated increased smoke with respiratory illnesses, which can lead to
    long-term effects or death.[xxviii]
    Increases in wildfires places strain on public health infrastructure.

Additional health risks:                                                                                  

  • Displacement and emotional trauma from severe wildfire and
    flooding events can result in produce post-traumatic
    stress disorder.[xxix]
    Recent wildfires in the northern territories were reported to have acute and long-term
    negative impacts for mental and emotional well-being.[xxx]
  • As the intensity and frequency of such events increases, Canadians will be
    affected by compromised physical and mental well-being.[xxxi]
    The impacts of climate change
    on mental health is typically thought to disproportionately affect those who are
    most marginalized. [xxxii]
  • Researchers have
    documented serious anxiety and post-traumatic stress-disorder-type
    symptoms among those impacted by the 2016 Fort McMurray fire.[xxxiii]
  • Northern populations will
    be disproportionately affected, with climate change impacting traditional food sources leading
    to not only dietary—but psychological and socio-cultural—consequences.[xxxiv]
  • Asthma, hay fever, and declines in lung function are worsening
    with more intense and prolonged pollen seasons.[xxxv]
  • Damage to public health
    infrastructure from severe weather events is also likely to negatively impact
    Canadians’ health.[xxxvi]


Download this brief here

[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

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,

[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

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

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:

[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:

[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: =3413071

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

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

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

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,


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,

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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:

[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:

[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.

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:

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.

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.