Canadian Medical Association

In summer 2023, Canada lost 18.4 million hectares of forest to wildfires — an area more than twice the size of Lake Superior — making it the worst season on record.

More than 6,500 wildfires blazed from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate and causing dangerous air pollution.

From June 1 to 25, 2023, more land burned in Quebec than in the previous 20 years combined. Smoke drifted, affecting people in southern Canada as well as the northeastern United States, blanketing New York City for days and causing hazy skies as far as Florida.

In August, all 20,000 residents of Yellowknife fled their homes, with fires threatening to consume the city.

Smoke poses immediate health risks, affecting cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic functioning. And the long-term effects from exposure are not yet fully understood.

Wildfires can affect hospital ventilation, increase admissions due to smoke-related health issues and threaten hospital infrastructure. The supply chain for essential resources can also be disrupted.

Canada is home to about 10% of the world’s forests. One third of this land has burned in the past 40 years. 

In 2023, more than 1.7 billion tons of planet-heating gases were released by Canada’s wildfires, amounting to three times Canada’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Wildfires, flooding and other extreme weather events are worsened by climate change.

Did you know?

Canada’s health care system is responsible for 4.6% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions —more than both more than aviation and shipping. This makes Canada one of the worst health care polluters per capita in the world.

“Climate change is inextricably linked to health. That’s why the World Health Organization identified climate change as this century’s single biggest health threat. Slow action is akin to no action.”

— Dr. Kathleen Ross, CMA president

Advocacy for a healthier planet

The Canadian Medical Association’s ongoing work to address the health impacts of climate change involves creating a net-zero emissions health system by 2050.

As part of achieving this goal, the CMA is calling for the establishment of a climate and health secretariat in the federal government. Working with provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments and partners, the secretariat would develop a pan-Canadian approach to address the health impacts of climate change and create climate-resilient and low-carbon sustainable health systems.

The CMA has also set an ambitious target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in its investment portfolio by 2050.

Because climate change goes beyond any one organization, province or country, the CMA advocates at an international level as well. This year’s Climate Change Conference (COP 28) will include the first day dedicated to health on Dec. 3, bringing together governments and policy makers from around the world.

A health-centred approach to climate action can deliver a healthier planet and a thriving future for all.

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