Open Access Research article

Adaptation to climate change in the Ontario public health sector

Jaclyn A Paterson1*, James D Ford1, Lea Berrang Ford1, Alexandra Lesnikowski1, Peter Berry2, Jim Henderson3 and Jody Heymann4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Geography, McGill University, Burnside Hall, 805 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, QC, H3A 2 K6, Canada

2 Climate Change and Health Office, Health Canada, 269 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0 K9, Canada

3 Life Sciences Library, McIntyre Medical Building, McGill University, 3655 Promenade Sir William Osler, Montreal, QC, H3G 1Y6, Canada

4 Institute for Health and Social Policy, Meredith, Charles, House, 1130 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, QC, H3A 1A3, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:452  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-452

Published: 19 June 2012



Climate change is among the major challenges for health this century, and adaptation to manage adverse health outcomes will be unavoidable. The risks in Ontario – Canada’s most populous province – include increasing temperatures, more frequent and intense extreme weather events, and alterations to precipitation regimes. Socio-economic-demographic patterns could magnify the implications climate change has for Ontario, including the presence of rapidly growing vulnerable populations, exacerbation of warming trends by heat-islands in large urban areas, and connectedness to global transportation networks. This study examines climate change adaptation in the public health sector in Ontario using information from interviews with government officials.


Fifty-three semi-structured interviews were conducted, four with provincial and federal health officials and 49 with actors in public health and health relevant sectors at the municipal level. We identify adaptation efforts, barriers and opportunities for current and future intervention.


Results indicate recognition that climate change will affect the health of Ontarians. Health officials are concerned about how a changing climate could exacerbate existing health issues or create new health burdens, specifically extreme heat (71%), severe weather (68%) and poor air-quality (57%). Adaptation is currently taking the form of mainstreaming climate change into existing public health programs. While adaptive progress has relied on local leadership, federal support, political will, and inter-agency efforts, a lack of resources constrains the sustainability of long-term adaptation programs and the acquisition of data necessary to support effective policies.


This study provides a snapshot of climate change adaptation and needs in the public health sector in Ontario. Public health departments will need to capitalize on opportunities to integrate climate change into policies and programs, while higher levels of government must improve efforts to support local adaptation and provide the capacity through which local adaptation can succeed.

Climate change; Health; Adaptation; Ontario; Canada