Climate change and the path to an equitable and sustainable future for Canadian health care

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Climate change has been identified as the greatest public health threat of the 21st century. Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and the health system is a significant contributor to the problem. On a per capita basis, Canada’s health care system is one of the worst health care polluters in the world. It accounts for between 4.6% and 5% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions — more than aviation and shipping.

Climate change undermines the social determinants of health and exacerbates other public health challenges. The threats of climate change are widespread, but they are not felt or experienced by all groups in the same way and the related health impacts are not equally distributed.

It doesn’t have to be this way. By supporting work to build a resilient, equity-based health system, we can help create positive, system-level change in the health of communities, the health system, the health workforce and the health of the environment. 

To help advance health equity and in alignment with the CMA’s goal of a net-zero emissions health system by 2050, the CMA Foundation supports initiatives focused on addressing the health impacts of climate change and improving climate resilience. 

For example, in April 2024, Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, in collaboration with the Réseau d’action pour la santé durable du Québec (RASDQ), released a report outlining a roadmap for Canada’s health sector to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The CMA Foundation provided funding to the Association pour la santé publique du Quebec to support the work of the RASDQ.

The report presents a pathway toward decarbonization for Canada's health sector and proposes a five-year investment plan for the federal government. The investment would not only meet the target but also position Canada as a leader in the climate transition, while benefiting the health of all Canadians.

"The CMA Foundation is proud to support the discussion around decarbonizing Canada's health care system," said Allison Seymour, president of the CMA Foundation. "The health care sector must lead by example and lead the way in energy efficiency in Canada and around the world.”

Additionally, the CMA Foundation, in partnership with the University of British Columbia’s Planetary Healthcare Lab, supports the Lancet Commission on Sustainable Healthcare (LCSH) on initiatives to promote sustainable health practices and policies aimed at integrating sustainability into the health care system in Canada and around the globe. 

LCSH is exploring resource consumption and environmental emissions associated with health care activities and is working to define sustainable practices and parameters to propose actionable solutions for relevant and equity-deserving groups. The commission is also developing integrated and accessible accounting tools and is working to inform policy and practice to drive the rapid transition to sustainable, accessible and equitable high-quality care. A publication of their findings is anticipated to be published in summer 2025.

Climate change is a major threat to health care around the globe. While no one organization or group can solve the myriad of complexities associated with this threat, it is clear from reports like those supported by the CMA Foundation that a transition to net-zero and improvements in health care are possible with a collective approach and a commitment to equitable, transformative and reciprocal principles. 

A thriving health system requires a healthy population and a vibrant health workforce, all of which depend on a healthy, sustainable and flourishing planet. A health-focused approach to climate action will help create a healthier planet and a sustainable future for everyone.

The CMA Foundation provides impactful charitable giving to registered Canadian charities and qualified donees to improve health equity and further excellence in health care.