Thursday, July 24, 2008

New report coming on Canadian health and climate

Globe and Mail (Toronto): When Health Canada finally releases a major report on the health impacts of climate change, it will do so by posting it on the ministry website. It's an approach that was used once before on another climate change study. Then, as now, it undermined the credibility of the federal government's commitment to addressing global warming.

Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity was scheduled to be released in the spring. Health Minister Tony Clement's press secretary has said Health Canada is preparing the 500-page report for release. But those involved with the report say it has been ready for months. And on July 3, they were reportedly told it would not receive a formal launch but a "low profile," simply being posted online.

It is not clear how "low profile" Health Canada will go. In March, the Ministry of Natural Resources posted an electronic version of a report addressing the impacts of climate change on its website after 5 p.m. on a Friday. The "launch" occurred without even a press release, despite the government having paid a public relations firm $50,000 to plan national and regional events and to prepare authors for media interviews.

…The newer report focusing on risks to human health will address temperature-related illnesses, vector and rodent-borne diseases, effects of water and food contamination, air pollution health effects, extreme weather events and social and economic changes. That this report, too, will be released stealthily raises serious questions about the government's willingness to inform the public about climate change and to take timely measures to limit the harms it can cause.

Rather than attempting to keep it under the radar, the government should give it the fanfare due to a major study intended to help shape public health planning and policy development.

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