Transforming health in a changing climate
The climate crisis will test our readiness on all fronts. We must act now to future-proof our health and our healthcare systems — countless lives depend on it.
Fresh air, clean water, vibrant ecosystems — our health depends on the health of the planet. It’s a relationship we instinctively understand from the time we are very young because it’s so powerful and so essential to who we are. It shapes us throughout our lives, as we grow, develop and age.
Climate change threatens this relationship in many different ways. With rising global temperatures, we are seeing more frequent and intense wildfires, flooding, drought, heat domes and other climate-sensitive hazards. They present new threats to our physical and mental health and wellbeing, and make existing challenges worse.
In the late fall of 2022, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, released her report on Mobilizing Public Health Action on Climate Change in Canada, which notes that climate change “is arguably the largest looming threat to the health of our communities and our planet.”
She goes on to say, “We need to put health at the centre of climate action and focus on efforts that will lead to significant and near-immediate health and environmental benefits. By advocating for healthy environments, we can reduce chronic diseases, premature deaths and hospital admissions, promote positive mental well-being and reduce air pollution.” Already in 2023, we are seeing the increasing importance of these words.
So the question is, how do we future-proof our health and healthcare systems so we can adapt, thrive and make the world a better place, today and for generations to come?
Climate action in health begins with our most vulnerable populations. Only by protecting the health of those who are most affected today can we transform health for everyone tomorrow.
Here at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, we are tackling this urgent question head on.
Through action-oriented research and education, we are uncovering the complex and evolving impacts of climate change on health, from our individual genes to entire populations. And we are focused on translating our research findings into treatments, tools and programs to help us live longer and healthier lives from birth to old age; to make healthcare systems more accessible, equitable and responsive when we do get sick; and to minimize the disruption caused by emergency climate events.
We are also charting a course toward zero-emission health care. With our health partners, UBC researchers are finding innovative solutions to reduce laboratory waste, make hospital food more sustainable, minimize unnecessary patient testing and treatment, reduce emissions from patient commuting and from the medical supply chain, and more.
All of this work demands new skills, new knowledge and new perspectives in health. The Faculty of Medicine is training the next generation of researchers, clinicians and health professionals — within and across a wide range of disciplines and in collaboration with our partners in healthcare — to tackle the health impacts of climate change as they evolve and change over time.
Ultimately, climate action in health begins with our most vulnerable populations, here in British Columbia (B.C.), across Canada and around the world. Only by protecting the health of the people who are most affected today can we transform health for everyone tomorrow.
In this special issue of Pathways, you’ll see this vision at work in everything we do, whether it’s uncovering the benefits of urban green space on childhood development; testing drone-based health supply delivery in Rwanda and in northern B.C.; or making respiratory health services more accessible and culturally safe for Indigenous communities.
Right now, we find ourselves on the cusp of change. With global temperatures projected to rise for the foreseeable future, the work of UBC researchers has never been more urgent. Countless lives depend on the action we take together — as researchers, educators, learners, staff, community members and citizens of the world.
The future of health starts with us.
Dermot Kelleher MB, MD, FRCP, FRCPI, FMedSci, FCAHS, FRCPC, AGAF
Dean, Faculty of Medicine
The University of British Columbia
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Pathways — the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s digital magazine — features stories about cutting-edge health education, breakthrough research, and biomedical innovations that are making a difference in British Columbia and around the world. Discover the impact of our people and programs.