Canadian Medical Association

The World Health Organization has identified climate change as this century’s single biggest health threat. 

Canada is at particular risk — warming at more than twice the global rate. Indigenous, black and other marginalized communities are being hit the hardest, whether due to wildfires, rising sea levels and receding shorelines on traditional territories, or flooding and heat domes in crowded urban centres.

And for physicians, extreme climate events are making patients sicker and reducing care options.

The health system itself is part of the problem.

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

But the CMA believes our profession can help heal the planet and support a healthier population by doing care differently — cutting emissions and responding to the climate shocks already affecting patients and providers.

We have the opportunity to not only help every patient we ever treat, but every person who will ever be born. What you do matters.

— Dr. Courtney Howard, climate change and health researcher

Our work on sustainable health systems

The CMA is advocating for environmentally sustainable health systems in Canada, with a focus on reaching net zero by 2050.

Our new policy on environmentally sustainable health systems in Canada includes recommendations on climate adaptation, resilience, emergency preparedness and net-zero targets, and outlines actions governments, health administrators and practitioners can take — from reducing waste to rethinking health infrastructure — across the continuum of care.

The CMA and our subsidiaries are also divesting from stakes in energy companies whose primary business relies on fossil fuels  – on track to reach a net-zero GHG emissions investment portfolio by 2050.

More broadly, the CMA is a stakeholder in Canada’s First National Adaptation Strategy, providing recommendations to address the health impacts of climate change and climate resilient health systems.

In addition, we partner yearly with The Lancet to produce a report with targeted recommendations to address climate change and human health in Canada.

Video Transcript

Climate change is a growing health threat.

Canada isn’t ready.

2023 was the worst wildfire season in Canada’s history.

Every province and territory was affected.

It’s just one of the many climate shocks already affecting health and health workers.

And Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

Current health threats may intensify.

Extreme heat can damage the brain, the central nervous system and other organs.

Climate-related anxiety and depression are increasing.

New threats may emerge.

The health workforce is already in crisis across the country.

About half of Canada’s health care facilities are more than 50 years old, – ill-equipped to operate through climate emergencies.

Our health system is part of the problem, accounting for more greenhouse gas emissions than aviation and shipping.

In fact, Canada is one of the worst health care polluters per capita. The system’s carbon footprint is equivalent to 500 coal-fired power plants.

We can do better.

The Canadian Medical Association is calling on the federal government to establish a Climate and Health Secretariat.

It would facilitate a pan-Canadian approach to the health impacts of climate change

and work towards a climate-resilient and low-carbon health system.

One large-scale inspiration is England’s National Health Service.

It has cut emissions equivalent to powering more than one million homes.

A hospital in Birmingham performed the first net-zero surgery in 2022.

Canada must also adapt its health care system to the new reality we live in

and mitigate climate change for a healthier future.

Our health system can be good for the planet and for patients.

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Our 2023 recommendations include calling for the establishment of a national secretariat to collaborate with provinces and territories and international climate-health networks and resources. This secretariat would facilitate and coordinate the creation of climate-resilient and low-carbon sustainable health systems.

Because climate change goes beyond any one organization, province or country, the CMA advocates at an international level as well — most recently, this included participating at COP28 where more than 120 countries endorsed a landmark declaration to proactively address climate-change health impacts.

    As vulnerable individuals in BC — including people with mental health concerns and the interaction between heat and the medications they took — struggled to manage in the 2020 heat dome, it necessitated increased visits to emergency rooms which were already at capacity during the COVID-19 response. Layered climate-related crises such as wildfires and flooding put a further strain on patients, families and communities, on health human resources, and the broader health care system at large.

    — Michelle Hamilton-Page, CMA Patient Voice Advisory Group

    Our climate partners

    The CMA continues to work closely with leading climate partners nationally — such as CASCADES, the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care, HealthCareCAN, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and Choosing Wisely Canada — as well as international organizations, including the WHO, Healthcare Without Harm, and the Global Climate and Health Alliance. 

    The CMA is also committed to partnering with and being guided by First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to advance and promote health care equity.

    What physicians can do to help

    Collaboration with physicians and learners of all ages, stages and specialties, from rural and remote communities as well as big cities, is essential for a better way forward.

    Find out how to get involved with the CMA’s work.


    Read more about the CMA's areas of focus

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