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Climate Change and Health

Last updated/revised:  March 18, 2024

Climate Change

Climate is the average weather patterns of a region over a long period of time (i.e. 30+ years). Climate change refers to the long-term shift in the usual weather patterns of a region (e.g., average temperatures, precipitation, and extreme weather events, variability of measures, etc.).

Over the last 100-150 years, Earth’s climate has been changing, including an increase in the global surface temperature. The warming trends are largely attributed to greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Changes to climate are experienced differently across the globe. Canada is experiencing a faster warming rate than the global average. Locally, it is expected that our region will experience warming of all seasons, and increased precipitation in winter and spring seasons. These changes will correspond with more heat waves, and potentially greater frequency and intensity of storms. These can result in issues such as floods and droughts.

Climate change is associated with a variety of threats (hazards) to health. Climate hazards and some of the potential health impacts are listed below:

  • Extreme temperatures, particularly heat / heatwaves
    • Dehydration and heat stroke
  • Extreme weather events (e.g. intense rain or wind storms)
    • Injuries from extreme weather events
  • Food and water contamination
    • Food and waterborne illnesses
  • Changes to food and water security
    • Reduced affordability and availability of safe food and safe water
  • Increased infectious diseases such as those carried by ticks and mosquitoes
    • Illness from Lyme disease and West Nile virus, as well as other vector borne diseases
  • Reduced air quality
    • Exacerbation of lung conditions, asthma, and allergies
  • Changes to UV (ultraviolet) radiation exposure
    • Increased risk of skin cancer

Mental health impacts can also be experienced from any of the challenges above, as well as feelings of anxiety about climate change (climate- or eco-anxiety). Video: Understanding and Coping with Eco-Anxiety - Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Climate change can impact the health of all people, but some people are more at-risk or “vulnerable”. Vulnerability can be influenced by many factors such as age, pre-existing health conditions, being pregnant, housing quality, and having a job or recreational hobby where one is more exposed to health hazards. People can also be vulnerable if they cannot adapt to the hazards.

PPH assessed vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change locally, and found that some  of the greatest vulnerability to climate hazards can exist for those who have a combination of risk factors, such as:

  • Being very old or very young
  • Living on a low income or not having enough money to adapt to climate hazards
  • Living without safe, stable, or adequate housing
  • Experiencing health conditions, including mental illness
  • Facing barriers to social connection or access to the right supports and service

Climate change is a serious public health issue. It affects everyone’s health, wellbeing and the environment that we live in. Peterborough Public Health (PPH) is required by Ontario’s Ministry of Health to consider the health impacts of climate change as part of the Ontario Public Health Standards.

In our current Strategic Plan, PPH identified a goal that: “People most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change are supported in adapting to and reducing negative health impacts.”

Supporting our community to adapt to climate change will require collaborative multi-sector efforts. As an initial step, PPH has prepared a Climate Change and Health Vulnerability Assessment for the PPH Region. This assessment outlines:

  • PPH region historical climate and projected changes to climate
  • Climate hazards that may be experienced locally
  • Population groups that are most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate hazards
  • Current health impacts of climate hazards and considerations for the future

The intent is that this assessment will inform further collaborative adaptation-focused efforts.

Tackling climate change requires two approaches. While mitigation refers to approaches aiming to reduce the causes of climate change (often by way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions), adaptation refers to approaches aiming to reduce the negative impacts of climate change. Adaptation measures can be taken by individual members of society. However, it is also crucial for community leaders and policy-makers to take action collaboratively to understand, assess, prepare for and help prevent the health impacts of climate change, particularly on the most vulnerable in society.

PPH delivers programs that address many of the climate change-related health hazards. For more information, including how to protect yourself, visit these webpages:

·         Extreme Cold (PPH)

·         Extreme Heat (PPH)

·         Extreme Weather – Flooding (PPH)

·         Extreme Weather – Emergencies and Being Prepared (PPH)

·         Contamination and availability of food and water:

o   Food Safety (PPH)

o   Food Safety (

o   Water Safety (PPH)

o   Beach Testing (PPH)

·         Food Security (Peterborough Food Action Network)

·         Vector-borne Diseases:

o   Ticks and Lyme Disease (PPH)

o   West Nile Virus (PPH)

o   Zika Virus (PPH)

·         Air Quality:

o   Air Quality (PPH)

o   Air Quality (Climate Atlas of Canada)

·         UV Exposure/Sun Safety (PPH)

·         Mental Health:

o   Mental Health (PPH)

o   What’s Available for Families – Mental Health (PPH)

For more information about this work, please “Contact Us”