A report that tracks the world’s progress on health and climate change says Canada needs to take coordinated steps to green its health care system. The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change found that Canada’s health care sector accounts for approximately 4% of the country’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When compared to health care systems in 47 countries, Canada has the third-highest per capita emissions.
Dr. Andrea MacNeill, a surgical oncologist at Vancouver General Hospital and co-author of the Canadian portion of The Lancet Countdown, collected the emissions data from the Canadian health care system.
In reviewing her research, she says GHG emissions in the health care sector are predominantly generated by hospitals. The reasons are simple: hospitals are resource-intensive facilities, open 24/7, with stringent ventilation standards that require high-energy use. She also points to the massive amounts of waste produced by hospitals and the trend toward single-use products like disposable gowns, blood pressure cuffs and surgical equipment.
“We need to seize this opportunity as a health sector to transform our system from one that simply treats disease to one that promotes health, of both people and the planet as these two things are inextricably linked.” – Dr. Andrea MacNeill, co-author of The Lancet Countdown
The report recommends bringing together experts from research, education, clinical practice and policy to develop a sustainable strategy to reduce waste and GHG emissions in health care, with the goal of achieving zero-emissions by 2050. Dr. MacNeill says Canada needs to develop a toolkit of actions that can be implemented at the system, hospital and individual level — recognizing that physicians can have an impact with simple changes to their practice.
In addition to health care sector emissions, The Lancet Countdown highlights the following climate-related health impacts in Canada:
- are projected to rise 75% by the end of the 21st century
- are displacing more Canadians, with more than half of the 448,444 evacuations between 1980-2017 occurring in the last decade
- are having human health impacts, from death, trauma, major burns, anxiety and PTSD
- are contributing to cases of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- continues to be dominated by fossil fuels
- was responsible for 24% of national GHG emissions in 2017
- contributed to more than 1,000 deaths from air pollution in 2015
Examples of impacts of climate change on health and health systems in Canada
For the second consecutive year, CMA board member Dr. Courtney Howard led the team that produced the Canadian report for The Lancet Countdown, a document supported by both the CMA and the Canadian Public Health Association.
“It’s time to own up to our climate impact and move toward a greener health care system.” – Dr. Courtney Howard, lead author of The Lancet Countdown, CMA board member
Taking part in the report’s release in Quebec, CMA president Dr. Sandy Buchman said Canada’s doctors are seeing the devastating health impacts of climate change first-hand.
“From wildfires to heat waves to new infectious diseases, we’re already treating the health effects of climate change. It’s time we had a comprehensive plan so that Canada meets our international climate change targets.” – Dr. Sandy Buchman, CMA president
Climate change and health was one of the CMA’s key platform issues during the 2019 federal election. The association called on all parties to commit to concrete actions on climate change, including the need for investments in health care and public health systems to better deal with its impacts.
The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change is a comprehensive yearly analysis produced by 120 experts from 35 institutions which tracks progress on key indicators of the impact of climate change on human health and the world’s efforts to minimize it.