What is climate change?
Climate change is a permanent change in weather patterns over time. This change in weather patterns can impact human health. Climate change is caused mostly by the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), which releases pollutants called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Other sources of greenhouse gases include agriculture, waste, industrial processes and fugitive emissions (e.g. vapours that escape from storage tanks, pipelines or during transfer of fuels). These pollutants trap heat from the sun, which has led to an increase in the earth's temperatures. Changes in temperature affect ocean currents, air movement, evaporation and precipitation – all factors that affect the weather.
How does climate change affect our health?
Climate change can have both a direct and an indirect impact on human health. Direct impacts include sickness from extreme heat or poor air quality. Health may also be indirectly impacted by extreme heat or flooding resulting in power outages, damage to infrastructure and disruption to transportation and telecommunications. Such disturbances may increase risks of food contamination, displace people from their homes and jobs, disrupt social support networks, create challenges for accessing healthy food, and increase psychosocial stress.
In Toronto, potential health impacts of climate change include:
• Increased incidence of heat/cold-related illness and premature death
• Severe weather resulting in direct impacts such as injury and indirect impacts such as water-borne diseases
• Increases in vector-borne diseases
• Food system impacts including food insecurity and food-borne illness
• Degraded air quality increasing cardiovascular and respiratory illness
Who is at risk?
We all are. However, certain populations are at greater risk of climate change health impacts. Vulnerable groups include infants and children, women, seniors, people with underlying health problems, low income and homeless people, people living off the land and First Nation communities. For more information, consult Toronto Public Health's and the Clean Air Partnership's report on climate change and health equity.
This work will be supported alongside City-wide efforts to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emission by 2050, through the TransformTO.