Welcome to DrPHealth

Please leave comments and stimulate dialogue. For those wanting a bit more privacy or information, email drphealth@gmail.com. Comments will be posted unless they promote specific products or services, or contain inappropriate material or wording. Twitter @drphealth.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Kyoto, Canada’s commitment on the chopping block - Climate change and Health

Public Health professionals who speak out on the Kyoto agreement may find themselves in a career limiting position.  That was apparent over a decade ago when a prominent Alberta Medical Health Officer took the provincial government of the day to task (and now is the leader of the liberal opposition in the province).
For its strengths and weaknesses, the key contribution of the Kyoto agreement was a near global acceptance that climate change was occurring and that we humans should be doing something to mitigate the potential consequences.  After 14 years, 191 countries have ratified the agreement, the sole and most notorious country to renege on ratification being the United States.
Canada has little to be proud about in its efforts to control greenhouse gases.   Its emissions have increased by some 50% since Kyoto was signed and clearly far off its agreed to committment. Depending on the list Canada produces about 5.5% of the global greenhouse gases 6th or 7th among nations. Emissions from China, US and India respectively combine for just short of half of all global emissions.  Collectively however, while Kyoto was designed to lead to a reduction of 5% by the end of its expiry in 2012, greenhouse gas emissions have increased about 25%.  Overall a failing effort.

Kyoto was based on the assumption that binding targets would work, without any method of enforcement.  It did not predict the growth of emerging economies that the start of the decade heralded.   Each year, countries reunite to continue the dialogue - this year it is currently being held in Durbin where discussions centre on how to save Kyoto.  
Remember, this is the world of our grandchildren we are discussing.  Most of us will just be carbon sequestered in the ground when the impacts really hit hard.

So the leaked item of the day suggests that Canada will acknowledge its failings by withdrawing from the Kyoto agreement. Timely given the current conference, so is there truth to the rumour?  Perhaps it is just a political trial balloon, gauge the reaction without doing a formal poll.  If real, the action is a typical Harperism. Rather than continue to ignore Kyoto as is the tacit government policy, fly it in the face of the those that are willing to demand change.  Canadian emission control efforts have been undermined throughout the conservative government years already.
Canada undertook a fair health vulnerability assessment published in 2009.  It remains unique in being a federal document that is not available on-line.  If you wish a copy, you can make a request by following the link at Health Canada climate change assessment.  The first link is to the Environment Canada overall assessment report which is and has always been available on-line.   Why Health Canada will not include the on-line version is a mystery for which I would welcome some intel (contact me at drphealth@gmail.com).
The lack of knowledge is the major reason for the lack of specificity – predicting the impact of climate change on Canadians is like predicting earthquakes.  While ice packs may melt, and dry regions become drier, the potential for larger areas of food producing lands exists and some industries and processes will benefit from the predicted climatic change.  
In the absence of real commitment to emission reduction globally from the major producers countries including ourselves, the action by the Canadian government to withdraw or not withdraw is no more than political posturing.  So who is the government attempting to appease?  It likely will spell the death knell for sections and departments federally that study and regulate carbon emissions, it will migrate the dialogue away from attempting to halt climate change and it may eliminate the political embarrassment of treating Kyoto as a sham.
It will not however change the dismal record of our country, the inevitable incremental changes that carbon dioxide accumulations will cause, and the need for communities to build resiliency and adapt to the change.  The change will be slow and steady with more extreme events being documented than previous. 
The major risks for global human health will be twofold: in low lying countries where flooding will reduce land availability and displace millions; and certain arid areas will reduce local food production and extend periods of localized famine.  Changes in distribution of infectious diseases, heat exposure, and extreme weather events may draw more attention than the insidious changes that will impact the greatest number. 
Many animal species have adapted to change in the past through migration and evolution, or the weakest of species have failed.    Will we survive, thrive, or dive?

PS - CBC coverage on Canada's waivering committment is commendable, worth checking out. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2011/11/28/pol-durban-conference.html 


  1. Thanks for your ongoing dedication to your blogspot.
    I truly appreciate reading your posts... namaste.

  2. Hi Dr. P -- yes thanks for bringing this topic up. I fear evolution will not happen fast enough for us. But (im)migration certainly will, which will put stress on arable lands as well as all other systems.
    Humans are smart enough to allay some of the threats, but are we as a whole too selfish and shortsighted to use our collective heads?
    I sense that the Harper government is more interested in the oil -- and opening ocean passages for trade and military might -- that the receding ice, and the expansion of our sovereignship of the ocean shelf, will give us than they are in a better world. "Success at all costs" seems to be their world view.

  3. Well said! I grow weary of listening to the talking empty head who currently holds the environment portfolio in Cabinet ...