Public Health takes centre stage in the fight against climate change

The links between human health and climate change are increasingly well-established.

Climate change and shorter-term health  co-benefits

Our collective responses to climate change not only have long-term impacts, they can also have shorter-term health co-benefits. For example, reduced fossil fuel use improves air quality, while active modes of transportation such as walking, biking and transit increase physical activity and well-being. Similarly, a larger amount of green space and a robust tree canopy in urban areas enhances resilience to extreme heat while also improving live-ability for residents.

Through working with local and regional governments on healthy built environments, health authorities help maximize the health co-benefits of climate change actions and policies such as these.

What Lower Mainland health authorities are doing

In addition, health authorities are engaged in some of the climate change adaptation efforts within our communities. This past summer, residents and visitors of both Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions faced the health impacts of sustained high temperatures, as well as heavy smoke from wild fires across the province.

In collaboration with the BC Centre for Disease Control, health authorities assisted local municipalities in extreme heat response planning to help ensure vulnerable populations received needed assistance and to identify infrastructure that can help communities keep cool during these kinds of events. Health authorities  also worked in conjunction with Metro Vancouver on air quality advisories for our communities.

In addition, both Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health are in the process of assessing how the health authorities, public health in particular, can do more and be more intentional in a climate change response.  Plan H, the  healthy communities initiative sponsored by the provincial government, includes recommendations on how public health programs can be involved in shaping community level climate change actions. These include:

  • communicating to the public on the health effects of climate change
  • identifying populations most vulnerable to climate change
  • monitoring the health impact from climate change
  • working with local governments on climate change resilience.

This is the final article of a three-part series on the links between health and climate change and the critical role of local health systems in creating low-carbon resilient communities. You can find the first two articles “The defining health issue of our century: it’s not what you might expect“and “Climate resilience involves all of us: a look at health facilities’ response to climate change.

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Contact the Green+Leaders program.

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