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Can you stand the heat?

Planning for better health in a changing climate

Climate change is one of the most significant global health concerns of the 21st century. In Canada, our average land temperature has risen 1.7°C since 1948, and if no action is taken, it’s expected to increase by about 5.44°C in major cities by the end of the century.

Rising temperatures will have an effect on our health, but with the right knowledge, we can take action to reduce risk and adapt our living and working environments for better health.

The CanTEMP project was designed to help plan for the health impacts of a warming climate. CanTEMP stands for Canadian Temperature Excess Mortality and Morbidity Projections. The study provides health impact projections under four climate change scenarios based on different levels of greenhouse gas emissions, through the end of this century.

Using daily outdoor temperature and health data for a period of fifteen years (between 2000 and 2015) from 111 regions across Canada, researchers created models to project the human health impact of rising temperatures.

It was a truly collaborative, cross-disciplinary project, requiring contributions from a variety of partners. Temperatures were provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada, demographic information came from Statistics Canada, and health outcomes were available through health administrative databases. The team was led by researchers from Health Canada, including Eric Lavigne and Christopher Hebbern.

“The study found that our warming climate can be clearly linked to an increase in deaths due to cardiovascular and respiratory distress, and these numbers will continue to rise with the temperature. There is no question that action is needed,” says Lavigne.

Higher temperatures can lead to an added burden on our health care systems and our power grids, and the warming climate has an effect on almost all aspects of our daily lives.

By predicting the potential health effects of rising temperatures, we can understand the possibilities, take action to reduce risk, and prepare to adapt to changing health needs in different regions. Understanding as much as we can about how different scenarios may affect Canadians in all regions is a crucial first step.

Information provided by studies like CanTEMP will help to identify the most vulnerable groups and areas at highest risk in order to guide planning. For example, the study showed that Canadian cities in northern regions will experience a greater temperature increase than those in southern regions. This is vital information for planners, policy makers, and health educators, who can use CanTEMP data to support adaptation where it’s needed most.

Lavigne adds, “The temperature is rising and we have to face this reality, but there is so much we can do to create and protect healthier spaces for Canadians. Doing everything we can to keep the temperature down and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the first priority. We also have to provide the necessary tools to alleviate the impacts of heat. Making infrastructure investments today will help keep people safer in the future.”

Infrastructure investments that increase options for public transit and green transport reduce greenhouse gases to slow warming. Investments to improve capacity in health care settings, update power grids, and cool local areas, such as planting more trees to provide relief in outdoor spaces, will support optimal health as temperatures rise.

Lavigne recognizes it’s a monumental task, but he sees it as an achievable one. “Making changes in our daily lives to reduce CO2 emissions is important. If we all take action to reduce our carbon footprint, working together towards the same objective, we can have a real impact. It’s a shared responsibility to work with planners, policy makers, public health officials, and medical professionals to help prepare people with tools and information to adapt and mitigate these impacts.”

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