Extreme weather, record-breaking heat, and health vulnerabilities related to climate change

In July of this year, eastern Canada faced one of the worst heat waves in recorded history. Temperatures in Montreal throughout July reached record-breaking points, with the average temperature for the month being 24.2°C. The last time the city saw temperatures this high was in 1921, when the average for July was just .5 degrees warmer (24.7°C). The extreme temperatures across Quebec were part of a severe heat wave that is now being linked to 54 fatalities. In Montreal alone, 28 died and ambulance calls increased by 30% as many residents experienced heat stroke-related symptoms (including nausea, dizziness, confusion, high body temperatures, and a loss of consciousness). Although this single event cannot be attributed directly to climate change, local media were making the links and placing this in the context of what the new climate norm might entail.

Some populations are more vulnerable than others

Although extreme heat events affect everyone, certain populations are impacted disproportionately. These populations include those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who don’t have access to air conditioning and the ability to move to cooler environments; those who live alone and have pre-existing medical conditions or are at-risk due to other factors; and those who do not have a strong social support system. Peter Berry, Senior Policy Analyst at Health Canada and presenter of the workshop “Heat, Health and Collaborative Responses for Resilient Communities” at the upcoming Making the Links: Climate Change, Community Health & Resilience Symposium, illustrates how individual factors (such as chronic illness, medications, and social isolation) intersect with larger community factors to exacerbate health vulnerabilities to extreme heat:

A wheel diagram with two hubs of community and individual factors in health vulnerabilities.
From Peter Berry’s presentation to the American Meteorological Society Forum, Washington D.C. Download the PDF .

How hot are Canadian cities forecasted to become?

Higher temperatures and more extreme heat events due to climate change are expected to lead to a significant increase in weather-related mortalities. Information from the BC Centre for Disease Control (PDF) suggests that by 2050, extremely warm days (above 30°C) are expected to occur across Canada at rates almost four-times as frequently as they do currently. In central Canada, it is estimated that heat-related mortality could increase by as much as 100% by 2050 and 200% by 2080, as compared to current rates. Municipalities and health agencies across Canada are beginning to develop information and resources to more effectively and proactively address the health impacts of extreme heat events

Where can we go from here?

We know that Earth’s surface temperature is increasing and that temperatures are projected to rise significantly, leading to more extreme weather events and an increase in mortality and morbidity rates. We also know that adaptation and mitigation efforts need to address the fact that vulnerable populations are often impacted disproportionately and consider where interventions should be targeted. However, questions still remain: What are the cumulative impacts of repeated and longer term extreme heat events? What are some best practices for preparing for more intense extreme heat events? How do health agencies, municipalities, and other stakeholder groups support one another in their heat response planning initiatives?

The Making the Links Symposium will explore questions like these during a two-day event where we will translate knowledge into collaborative action on issues from extreme heat to healthy built environments and emergency preparedness. It will foster cross-sectoral collaboration and leadership to advance policy, planning, and practice as part of innovative health and climate solutions. We’ll be hearing about health adaptation actions and factors that increase vulnerability from engaging speakers such as Dr. Sue Pollock (Medical Health Officer, Interior Health), Magda Szpala (Senior Sustainability Advisor, BC Housing), and many other climate experts and organizations working .

Join us in Kelowna on November 5th and 6th for Making the Links: Climate Change, Community Health & Resilience to hear inspiring speakers, engage in cross-sectoral dialogue and thought-provoking workshops, and to explore practical strategies and tools to foster aligned action.

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