Adapting to and mitigating the impacts of global climate change are achievable, but uniting governments around the world to champion that cause remains a challenge, says a leading expert with the World Health Organization.
Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, coordinator of climate change and health policy for the WHO, says debating climate science doesn’t always capture people’s attention, equating a huge level of concern to a two degree change in global temperatures.
He said linking climate change to impact on health care tends to both personalize the issue in clearer terms for people.
Campbell-Lendrum says the health impact viewpoint brings the issue to a local or regional level, a grassroots-fueled initiative of concern that is necessary to ultimately influence government decision-makers.
“Change has to start at the regional and local level. There are mitigation and adaptation things we have to do, such a greenhouse gas emission reduction, but there is no guarantee we will do it,” he said.
He cited the example of California, a leading proponent of climate change policy advocacy in the U.S., which drew support about climate change not by the science, but through a commercial that focused on a young child with asthma and what uncertain future the youngster will face if climate change is left unchecked.
He said the ad was very effective because it personalized the issue, which at the time was being advocated for by then California Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has since become a leading global climate change advocate.
Campbell-Lendrum was one of several keynote speakers at Making The Links 2018: Climate Change, Community Health & Resilience, a conference co-sponsored by Interior Health, Simon Fraser University Faculty of Health Sciences and the Shift organization which advocates for business and human rights collaboration.
Participants from across Canada have descended on the Laurel Packinghouse in downtown Kelowna, site of the two-day symposium.
Campbell-Lendrum, speaking via video from Europe, said 23 per cent of all fatalities around the globe are directly linked to the environment, which will only escalate if pollution impacts coupled with extreme weather events due to climate change are ignored.
“Climate change means more hurricanes in number and severity, increase in transmission of infectious diseases, more frequency of heat wave severity, sea levels rising which will submerge some island countries and impact low lying areas in other countries,” he said.
“In some parts of the world, the health care systems will collapse because they will be unable to cope with the impact of these environment changes.”
But he sees some reason for optimism, as people are becoming more energized to the realities of climate change and finding a focus by improving health care inequities.
“We are seeing a large number of health care improvements projects around the world now whereas seven to eight years ago nothing like that was being done,” he said, citing the example of a new hospital built in a Caribbean country that was structurally built to withstand hurricane force winds and reliant on Green energy sources.
Trevor Murdock, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria, said the weather we have experienced the past two years in the Okanagan is the trend to expect in the future—more extreme precipitation events, hotter than previous normal summers, reduced snowpack in the winter which will lead to lower streamflows.
“Having up to a 60 per cent decrease in snowpack across the province is going to pose challenges to our water supply over time,” Murdock said.
“The number of days above 25 Celsius will double or triple in future compared to the past.”