Report warns of more health problems linked to climate change
A major report on climate change and health forecasts a higher risk of injuries, illnesses and stress-related disorders brought on by more frequent bouts of extreme weather.
A not-yet-released Health Canada report urges the federal government to brace Canadians for health problems arising from more droughts, violent storms, heat waves and cold snaps.
"Those things have effects on us in a variety of ways, including our human health," said University of Western Ontario professor Gordon McBean, one of the report's authors.
The 500-page report, part of which was obtained by the Canadian Press, says a changing climate will put the elderly, young children and those with low incomes at the greatest risk.
The report also says natural hazards will indirectly affect health by damaging infrastructure, displacing people and interrupting services or health care.
"Risks to the health of Canadians from natural hazards and extreme weather will increase as the climate continues to change," the report says.
It also calls for further study into the effects extreme weather has on mental health, citing research that shows psychological problems can linger long after a storm has passed.
Recommendations put forward by the authors of one of the report's chapters offer some reprieve from all the doom and gloom.
The report urges the Conservative government to bring the country's building and design codes and standards in step with changing climatic conditions through its $33 billion infrastructure plan.
"It is imperative that new or upgraded infrastructure is able to withstand the more frequent and intense natural hazards expected in the coming decades as the climate continues to change."
The report also calls on Ottawa to pay more heed to health and social services groups that plan for extreme weather and to raise the public's awareness of ways to prepare for, and adapt to, climate change.
Similar recommendations were made nearly a decade ago by the Quebec government's Nicolet Commission, which offered lessons learned from the crippling ice storm of January 1998.
Quentin Chiotti of the environmental think-tank Pollution Probe, who collaborated on the report, calls the Health Canada undertaking a "wake-up call … that climate change is going to have a significant impact on the health of Canadians."
Authors concerned Health Canada will bury report
The report, titled Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, was supposed to be released this spring.
There's some concern among those who worked on the report that it will be quietly relegated to a dark corner of Health Canada's website without any fanfare.
E-mails are now circulating saying the report has been sent to the printer, and is being readied electronically so it can be posted on the department's website. It's expected to be released sometime next week.
Other chapters are expected to focus on air quality, water- and vector-borne diseases and the country's capacity to adapt to health problems triggered by climate change.
Earlier this year, Natural Resources Canada posted a major study addressing the impacts of climate change on its website with little flourish.
That study, titled From Impacts to Adaptation, took years of research and input from more than 140 experts.
The Canadian Press later reported that the federal government paid a public relations firm $50,000 to choreograph the report's release, only to quietly post it online after 5 p.m. on a Friday.
Health Minister Tony Clement dismissed media reports this week that the Health Canada study will get a "low profile" release on the department's website.
Clement said he hadn't yet read the report and that the government is still crafting a communications plan for its eventual release.