14 June 2023:– Reacting to the wildfires sweeping across Canada, Global Climate and Health Alliance Vice Chair Dr Courtney Howard – an emergency physician based in Yellowknife, Canada, said:

“In 2014, in Yellowknife we had two and a half months of wildfire smoke. Our study showed a full doubling of visits for asthma to the emergency room where I work as a physician [1]. Community members expressed feelings of anxiety, irritation at being cooped up inside with less physical activity and nature contact than normal, and worry about their childrens’ future.” [2]

“Now we have smoke across North America. As bad as these wildfires are, we are not at a new normal. Environment and Climate Change Canada analysis shows that because Canada is warming at double the global rate, under all feasible emission scenarios it will be about 2 degrees Celsius warmer than a 1986-2005 baseline by the time today’s children are in their twenties [3]. We need to add smoke to our National Adaptation Strategy and ensure accessible clean air shelters 24/7 in all communities”, added Howard.

“Unfortunately, without a strengthening of  current policies, warming will continue right through the lives of today’s children, reaching 3.2oC by 2100 globally. With Canada currently warming at double the global rate, this will pose extreme challenges to health and the stability of supply chains and health systems  and leave many communities facing existential threats. We need a hard cap on oil and gas emissions in every country around the world, an immediate end to all global subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and for all countries to show up for the Global Stocktake at this December’s COP28 read to commit to saving lives through ambitious climate action. Failing to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement would be a devastating dereliction of our duty as members of the human family”, concluded Howard.

Dr Harsha Somaroo, President Public Health Association of South Africa and PHASA representative to the GCHA Board of Directors said, “The extreme wildfires in Canada are a tragic reminder of the destructive effects of increasing heatwaves, as the world grapples with the climate crisis. In South Africa, wildfires have also become more severe with devastating consequences. The direct and indirect impact on human health, including resultant injuries, cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, consequent mental health problems and socio-economic losses, are entirely preventable. Our COP 28 delegation has an immensely important role to play in the reduction of fossil fuel emissions, to protect vulnerable populations and promote health for all.”

Dr Damián Verzeñassi, director of the Institute of Socio Environmental Health (Salud Socioambiental de la Facultad de Medicina) in Rosario, Argentina said, “we stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Canada who are accompanying the communities affected by the impacts of smoke from the forest fires. We know the impacts from our own bodies and territories, due to the burning of the Paraná Delta wetlands. The productive models in our region impose a logic of poor development that is also limiting life. We understand that there cannot be healthy bodies in sick territories. For this reason health care strategies must be linked to the defense of territories promoted and sustained by social movements.”

“The current wildfires demonstrate yet again that the climate emergency truly is a health emergency – this December, COP28 must bring health ministers to table to find a common response to this crisis”, said Global Climate and Health Alliance Executive Director Dr Jeni Miller. “However, there is no point in treating the symptoms without addressing the cause. For COP28 to protect our ‘right to health’ as invoked by the Paris Agreement, it must steer us away from dangerous tipping points and catastrophic levels of warming. COP28 must deliver the full phase out of fossil fuels, and a just energy transition that does not saddle developing countries with outdated energy technologies and health-harming pollution.”

“With COP28 hosts the United Arab Emirates planning to deliver a health focus at this year’s climate summit – with a presidency-level health programme that includes an official Health Day and an inter-ministerial meeting on climate and health – the time is now for governments to ensure COP28 must go much further than simply the idea of a ‘Health COP’ and takes the action needed to protect the lives of people worldwide by taking us out of the fossil fuel era.”


Further reading: The Limits of Livability – The emerging threat of smoke impacts on health from forest fires and climate change


Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, Global Climate and Health Alliance, +34 691 826 764 (Europe) – [email protected] is checked regularly.


[1] British Medical Journal: SOS! Summer of Smoke: a retrospective cohort study examining the cardiorespiratory impacts of a severe and prolonged wildfire season in Canada’s high subarctic

[2] National Library of Medicine: Lived experience of a record wildfire season in the Northwest Territories, Canada

[3] Canada’s Changing Climate Report : Changing Climates: Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada

[4] Canada’s Changing Climate Report : Changing Climates: Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada

[5] UNDRR PreventionWeb: Climate change increases the risk of extreme wildfires around Cape Town – but it can be addressed

National Library of Medicine: Human health impacts in a changing South African climate

National Library of Medicine: Impacts of Climate Change on Health and Wellbeing in South Africa

[6] National Library of Medicine: The impact of climate change on food security in South Africa: Current realities and challenges ahead

Global Climate and Health Alliance: Health Groups Call for Health to Be Put at Heart of South Africa’s Climate Commitments


About GCHA

The Global Climate and Health Alliance is the leading global convenor of health professional and health civil society organizations addressing climate change. We are a consortium of health organizations from around the world united by a shared vision of an equitable, sustainable future, in which the health impacts of climate change are minimized, and the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation are maximised.

Find out more: https://climateandhealthalliance.org/about/