British Columbia

UBC researchers launch vulnerability index to track potential health impacts of climate change

The index, developed by researchers at the faculty of medicine, measures how susceptible communities in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions are to the health effects of extreme heat, wildfire smoke, flooding and air pollution.

Health effects of extreme heat, wildfire smoke, flooding and air pollution are mapped

This map shows the vulnerability of communities to higher summer temperatures. (Vancouver Coastal Health)

A team of researchers at the University of British Columbia is launching a climate vulnerability index — a new resource that will map climate change-related health vulnerabilities and help local health authorities plan for them.

The index, developed by researchers at the faculty of medicine, measures how communities in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions are susceptible to the health effects of extreme heat, wildfire smoke, flooding and air pollution.

According to a written statement, the index will be shared with the two health authorities, municipalities, and local First Nations so that they may quickly respond when climate-related health concerns arise.

"Data from each community was used to calculate scores for exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity, which were then summarized to form an overall vulnerability score," a project description explains.

"The UBC research team collected more than 35 indicators and reviewed more than 280 epidemiological papers to create the vulnerability maps. Over time, the maps will be updated to reflect community preparedness, and changing demographics."

The project also notes that different communities are inherently more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including seniors, people with lower incomes, and people who are subject to racist discrimination. 

"As we work together to respond, it will be vital to prioritize the populations who are more likely to experience climate-related health risks so that we don't worsen inequities," wrote Alex Choi, a Fraser Health medical health officer.

The project will also work directly with municipalities to build their capacity to respond.

For example, the map may recommend where it may become necessary to open cooling stations for people who live in regions that will increasingly become subject to heat waves in the coming years.

The project's findings are available to the public and can be viewed through an interactive website that walks visitors through each of the climate-related risks for their communities.

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