17 June 2008

Climate change heat and cold impacts likely to vary by country and context

Canadian Medicine, the blog of the Editor of the National Review of Medicine, reports a study which estimates that climate change impacts are likely to lead to a rise in deaths in Quebec during the summer which will not be counterbalanced by fewer lives lost during the predicted warmer winters.

The study, by a team of Laval University researchers reported last month in the International Journal of Health Geographics, predicted that by 2080 there would be 8-15% more deaths during hotter summers i.e. 540 extra deaths compared to their 1981-1999 baseline.

The study team argues that this is because Quebecers are acclimatised to the cold winters - through good thermal building regulations and cheap fuel among other things - they are less likely to die in the current cold winters unlike in Europe where studies have shown that hotter summers and milder winters while leading to more deaths in the summer would lead to fewer deaths in the mild winters and fewer deaths overall (as Euopeans living in more temperate regiosn are less acclimatised to cold winters). The study also used a slightly different methodology than the European studies which may also account for some/all of the difference found and the authors argue that there modelling is more accurate and has taken account of seasonal variation unlike some previous studies.

This Canadian study, and other studies in the USA with similar results, shows that local context in terms of social, cultural, environmental and economic factors as well as individual and societal behavioural change are likely to influence adaptation to the effects climate change and the potential positive and negative health impacts.

We therefore need to use contextualise general research on climate change impacts by taking into account social and behavioural factors to provide the best predictions of likely effects.

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The potential impact of climate change on annual and seasonal mortality for three cities in Québec, Canada
Bernard Doyon, Diane Bélanger and Pierre Gosselin
Published: 22 May 2008
International Journal of Health Geographics 2008, 7:23 doi:10.1186/1476-072X-7-23
Biomed Central (Open Access Journal)

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