Climate Change + Children’s Health

On the next HCLDR Tweetchat we welcome special guest hosts: Children’s Healthcare Canada @ChildHealthCan and UNICEF Canada @UNICEFCanada They will be leading us in a fascinating discussion about the impact of climate change on children’s health.

Lisa Wolff, Director of Policy and Research at UNICEF Canada along with Emily Gruenwoldt, President & CEO at Children’s Healthcare Canada have put together the following blog to provide background, context, and additional information ahead of the next tweetchat.

Join them on Tuesday May 31st at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here).


Canada’s economic and environmental resources are among the most abundant in the world. Many might reasonably expect that Canada’s children and youth share in the dividends and enjoy one of the highest levels of well-being in one of the most cleanest environments in the world. The reality however, is measurably different. On May 24th, UNICEF released Report Card 17 which ranks wealthy countries in regards to the impacts of environmental damage on the wellbeing of their children and youth. Relative to other rich countries, Canada ranks poorly – a disappointing 29th of 38 OECD countries.

Environmental damage is affecting children and youth from coast to coast to coast. Because of their small body size compared to adults, children have a proportionately higher intake of air, food and water, which if polluted, amplifies the possibility of negative health effects. Clean water remains out of reach for too many children. Air pollution is costing Canada’s kids healthy years of life. Localized extreme weather events put children, youth and their families at risk. Children are uniquely vulnerable to the risks of environmental degradation, yet they are least responsible for it. The impacts can start in the prenatal period and continue throughout their lives and may include infections, asthma, heat stress, poor mental health, diminished academic performance, cancers, injury and death.

UNICEF Report Card 17 describes several key metrics where Canada lags behind peers:

  • Child morbidity related to air pollution: 29/38th
  • Child lead poisoning: 11/38th
  • Child traffic injuries/death: 23/38th
  • Child exposure to air pollution: 8/38th
  • Child pesticide pollution exposure: 29/38th
  • Child morbidity due to unsafe water: 24/38th
  • Generation of municipal waste: 38/38th

Notably, children’s exposure to environmental risks and impacts are substantially unequal, both within and between countries. These risks are difficult for children to avoid, particularly those marginalized by income, race or disability. Canada’s policies and practices have improved some environmental conditions such as reducing air and lead pollution, shifting to renewable energy sources and lifting many long-term boil water advisories in First Nations communities. But more needs to be done to equitably protect children’s air, water, land and climate and the constructed environment of housing, roads and communities.

In this week’s HCLDR tweet chat, we would like to explore how health care leaders and front line providers are seeing the impacts of environmental degradation on children and youth in Canada and the US, how healthcare organizations can better prepare for climate related emergencies, and how we can build greater awareness for the linkages between the environment, climate and kids’ health.

Join us on Tuesday May 31st at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) when we will discuss:

  • T1 Are you seeing the impacts of environmental degradation including climate change on patients?  Are there particular groups of children more affected?  (think: Air pollution. Toxin exposure. Extreme heat.)
  • T2 What do we need to consider to better prepare the healthcare system to respond to climate crises/emergencies including floods, wildfires, extreme temperatures, etc? (ie: supply chain? Patient transport? Medical supply transport? Evacuation of patients?)
  • T3 What key messages do our decision makers need to hear to more directly connect the impacts of environment and climate change to children’s health?
  • T4 What can healthcare leaders do to raise awareness about linkages between environment, climate and children’s health?

About the Authors

Lisa Wolff

Director, Policy and Research @UNICEF Canada

Lisa Wolff is Director, Policy and Research at UNICEF Canada. She has worked in the organization for more than a decade leading education and policy focused work to advance the rights of Canada’s children to develop to their fullest potential, consistent with international human rights standards. Collaborating with government, institutions, civil society, researchers and private sector partners, Lisa has developed initiatives to advance children’s rights in policy, governance, monitoring and accountability. UNICEF Canada works across issues and sectors, making children and youth visible and leveraging UNICEF’s global research, data and innovation in domestic policy and practice. Lisa is an advisor to many initiatives including the Making the Shift Networks of Centres of Excellence Implementation Management Committee (addressing youth homelessness). She received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor-General of Canada in 2012.

Emily Gruenwoldt
President & CEO, Children’s Healthcare Canada, Executive Director, the Pediatric Chairs of Canada 

Emily Gruenwoldt joined Children’s Healthcare Canada in 2017 as the President and CEO. Emily has spent her career in the not for profit Association landscape – first with the Association of Canadian Academic Healthcare Organizations (ACAHO), then at the Canadian Medical Association. Emily is the founder of Emerging Health Leaders – a national network of 2,000 young health professionals. Emily is married and has two kids. 

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