Who is most impacted by climate change

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Vulnerability to the impacts of climate change

All people in Canada are vulnerable to health risks related to climate change.  However, climate change affects some people and communities more than others. In Canada, certain groups are at higher risk and more vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change.
You can be more vulnerable if you:

  • have an existing health condition  
    • for example, if you have diabetes or kidney disease, you can be affected more by dehydration during extreme heat events, commonly called heat waves
  • are more exposed to a hazard
    • for example, if you work outdoors in the sun during a heat wave, you are more exposed to hot temperatures
  • face challenges in taking needed protective measures
    • for example, if you have a disability, you may be more severely impacted by climate-related disasters and you may face greater challenges accessing care and emergency assistance.

Many factors influence your vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change. Examples of these factors include:

  • culture
  • income  
  • education
  • housing quality
  • physical environment, that is the:
    • natural environment 
    • built environment, like buildings, roads and walkways

Other factors that put specific people or groups at higher risk may also stem from existing inequities in society, such as those related to:

  • racism
  • poverty
  • disability  
  • colonialism
  • homelessness
  • sex and gender 
  • access to health care

For example, racialized populations in large urban centres in Canada have less access to green spaces. These green spaces can help moderate extreme temperatures and offer shade to cool off.  

Populations at higher risk of being harmed by climate change

Populations that may be at higher risk of being harmed by the impacts of climate change include:

  • seniors
  • youth and children
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • racialized populations
  • people with disabilities
  • people who are pregnant  
  • frontline emergency responders
  • residents of northern and remote communities
  • individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged 
  • people who are immunocompromised and those living with pre-existing illness

Understanding who is most at risk and why allows public health officials and community organizations to help those who need it most.  

Climate change challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples

Compared to non-Indigenous people, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples face greater challenges from climate change impacts on health. This is due to existing disparities, such as:

  • shorter lifespans
  • higher rates of chronic diseases
  • greater food and water insecurity in many communities

Several factors increase risks to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples from climate change impacts, including:

  • high food costs 
  • harsher climates  
  • small service centres  
  • remoteness and isolation
  • poorer transportation systems   
  • vast distances between communities
  • effects of industrial resource extraction
  • historic and ongoing burdens of colonialism
  • limited social, educational and employment opportunities
  • close cultural connection and dependence on the natural environment
  • infrastructure vulnerabilities, for example, unstable housing, water and  sewage infrastructure
  • the unique and relatively complex legal, governance and service structures for Indigenous Peoples and communities

In many cases, groups at higher risk have shown significant adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change. Many seniors, for example, take a range of measures to protect themselves from the harmful effects of extreme heat. These strategies could benefit all people in Canada.  

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