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.
CMA President Dr. Alika Lafontaine remembers how wildfire smoke impacted his Grande Prairie hospital: “The smoke was so thick we had to shut down our operating theatres … I never thought I would see this in my life. These are very real effects on people’s lives.”
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.
Health care plays a crucial role in mitigating the impacts of climate change and ensuring a healthier population for future generations. As physicians, we have a responsibility to act now.— CMA President Dr. Alika Lafontaine
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. Our 2022 recommendations include:
- Transforming health systems to minimize their climate impacts and adapt to the risk of extreme weather events
- Partnering with Indigenous Peoples to advance health equity
- Communicating evidence-based solutions to adapt and mitigate in ways that improve health
As vulnerable individuals in B.C. — 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 partnered with CASCADES to develop a course about leading sustainable health systems.
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.
Read more about the CMA's areas of focus