Kids cool off in fountain on a hot summer day.

The best way to prepare for climate change? Invest in people.

Climate change will deepen the existing socioeconomic fractures that make disadvantaged people more susceptible to poorer health.

Without government action, climate change will widen the health gap between rich and poor

This may be unwelcome news, but COVID-19 is not the only health crisis in Canada. While all eyes are fixed on case counts and vaccination numbers, climate change continues to affect everyone’s health— and this is poised to worsen over the coming decades. Climate change will deepen the existing socioeconomic fractures that make disadvantaged people more susceptible to poorer health. And without additional preparation, climate change will cost the country billions of dollars in increased illnesses, escalating healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Adapting to climate change has often been treated as an afterthought, or even an admission of defeat—something to undertake if society fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently. But while acting to limit warming is essential, so is acting to prepare for the changes already baked in. Even if Canada and the rest of the world reach net zero emissions by 2050, past emissions already guarantee disruptions in the decades to come, and the best way to minimize these disruptions is to understand the forms they’re likely to take and move proactively to address them. 

New analysis from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, an independent climate policy research organization, seeks to do precisely that: providing a comprehensive review of the climate change-related health costs that may await Canada, and pointing to where the wise investments today could have the biggest impact. Their report, The Health Costs of Climate Change: How Canada Can Adapt, Prepare and Save Lives, provides both a warning of the major impacts to the health and prosperity of people across Canada, and hope that if action begins today, it could limit healthcare costs and loss of life. 

Preparing for the health impacts of climate change requires us to address the root causes of health vulnerabilities—poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. The same fault lines that have made COVID-19 harder on some, with Black people, Indigenous Peoples, and people of colour disproportionately suffering both the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. The same holds for the health impacts of climate change, and growing inequality could further exacerbate the situation.

Inequity is increasing in Canada, and that’s leading to increasingly unequal health outcomes. A recent study from Statistics Canada, for example, finds that men in the top 20 per cent income bracket live nearly eight years longer than those in the bottom 20 per cent, and the gap is growing. 

The fact is, your health outcomes and life expectancy are determined much more by your postal code than your genetic code. Income, education, access to quality housing, and food and water security shape the health of individuals, neighborhoods, and communities across Canada, and the gap in outcomes for the most and least fortunate continues to grow. 

The health effects of climate change may not be as visible and fast moving as the spread of COVID-19, but they may be as deadly. It is time for Canada to take health preparation more seriously. Over the past five years, 12 per cent of federal climate change funding went to reducing climate change risks, while just 0.3 per cent was designated to reduce health impacts.

Good health starts in our homes, our jobs, and our communities. Investing in climate change adaptation today, including measures that address the social and economic factors that result in poor health, will save lives and improve quality of life for generations to come.

Originally published at iPolitics.

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