Press release

New report from Chief Medical Health Officer: water systems, housing temperatures and Indigenous cultural practices - at high risk due to climate change

A new report, titled Protecting Health in a Climate Emergency, released today by Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer (MHO) for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), identifies populations in the VCH region facing urgent harms to health due to climate change.

“There is no community within our region that is not at risk of harm because of our changing climate,” said Dr. Daly. “What we found however, is that the risks are different for each community, depending on both geography and on the demographics of the population.”

As well as significant work already underway from local governments, Indigenous communities and community partners to mitigate climate change and adapt to protect those at risk, the report includes action-based recommendations that can be implemented across many sectors and levels of government, along with other community organizations, in collaboration with VCH Public Health.

This landmark report, titled Protecting Population Health in a Climate Emergency, brings together multiple sources of data and analyses to describe the impacts of climate change on population health, and to examine the most significant impacts experienced and anticipated in the region. 

Some of the impacts identified include:

  • Drinking water systems in many smaller communities in VCH are at risk of disruption or failure in the event of drought or flooding. The Sunshine Coast is one area that experienced a prolonged drought in 2022. The region was under a State of Local Emergency and access to water was restricted for the region’s 22,000 residents.
  • Indigenous communities have identified that changes to the climate in the VCH region are impacting the ability to access traditional foods and medicines, including fish, other animals, berries, and roots. Wildfires and other hazards have damaged hunting and fishing grounds, trap lines, and trappers’ cabins, as well as burial grounds and other sacred sites. These changes create obstacles for many Indigenous people to engage in cultural practices, potentially impacting nutritional and spiritual health and wellbeing.
  • Indoor temperatures get dangerously hot within housing in the VCH region during hot weather events, particularly multi-unit dwellings without air conditioning. VCH Public Health collaborated with the City of Vancouver and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) on a multi-year citizen science project to learn more about indoor temperatures during hot weather. 75% of participants without air conditioning reported temperatures of 26°C or above, which is a threshold for increased risk.
  • High-density neighbourhoods in every urban community in VCH — from West Vancouver to Richmond — would benefit from additional tree planting. Neighbourhood green space was found to be protective during the 2021 heat dome. Metro Vancouver’s urban tree planting priority index is based on a combination of factors including current tree canopy cover, extreme heat risk, social disparities, and housing type.
  • Many rural, remote and smaller VCH communities don’t have full-scale government air quality monitoring stations to measure local exposure to contaminants from wildfire smoke. A VCH Public Health project to install lower-cost air quality monitors for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is helping community members assess local air quality to protect health during smoke events.
  • Young people are especially vulnerable to climate anxiety. National data and surveys of students across the VCH region indicate that concern about climate change is putting youth mental wellbeing at risk.

“This report highlights how climate change can affect populations in different ways,” said Medical Health Officer Dr. Michael Schwandt, who led the project team. “Many communities in our region have already initiated activities to build resilience to the threats and impacts of climate change, but this work needs to be accelerated.”

The report includes 17 evidence-based recommendations to guide actions for protecting populations that are at greater risk, adapting to a changing climate, learning through monitoring and research, and mitigating further climate change. All levels and sectors of government, non-governmental organizations, and other partners can play a role and cooperate to reduce the population health impacts of climate change. VCH Medical Health Officers are committed to active collaboration to bolster the region’s resilience to climate change and will work with partners to advance these actions.

Read Protecting Population Health in a Climate Emergency, Report of the Vancouver Coastal Health Chief Medical Health Officer, 2023 online here:


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