Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit Barrie Office
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Board Notes of March 20, 2019

Apr 11, 2019

Climate change is a public health priority: Health unit

The health unit is implementing a comprehensive climate change action plan to reduce climate-related health risks for the people of Simcoe and Muskoka and to build resilience and adaptive capacity in communities in Simcoe Muskoka. The plan was presented to the Board of Health along with a brief review of the health unit’s work on climate change, which has been identified as a strategic priority since 2012. Brenda Armstrong, the manager of healthy environments and vector-borne disease, said that without a reduction in the current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, an average temperature increase of 5.7 degrees could occur by the 2080s in Simcoe Muskoka. Our changing climate will result in severe weather events, forest fires and seasonal flooding, which in turn can cause increases in diseases and respiratory illness, disrupt food supply, and cause storm related injuries and property damage.

Armstrong described climate change as “a defining public health issue” with an impact on health across Canada. An extensive vulnerability assessment looking into local health impacts, A Changing Climate; Assessing health impacts and vulnerabilities due to climate change within Simcoe Muskoka, was completed in 2017. That research document provided data that supported the development of the climate change action plan.

Next steps under the plan include incorporating findings of the Vulnerability Assessment into public health programming, and strengthening partnerships with school boards, conservation authorities, municipalities and others.  A new interactive on-line mapping tool will pinpoint localized climate change data.

Armstrong pointed out that municipal policies that support sound community design can reduce carbon emissions, improve the public’s health and build in resilience against the worst effects of climate change. The potential to maintain our climate change response will depend in part on the level of resources provided to the health unit this year and in the years to come.

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