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Gerry Scott of the David Suzuki foundation stands with David Suzuki in Ottawa on Wednesday as they take part in a news conference announcing their support for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

Ratifying Kyoto would save lives, doctors say
Smog costs Ontario $1b yearly in hospital costs, absenteeism - study

By Dennis Bueckert / The Canadian Press

Ottawa - A coalition of doctors and medical groups is calling for quick ratification of the Kyoto protocol, saying it will bring cleaner air, cut hospital costs and save lives.

Although the climate treaty is aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it will also reduce other major pollutants that cause lung-damaging smog, doctors told a news conference Wednesday.

"Ratifying the Kyoto protocol is a powerful step to start reducing fossil fuel use, which means improved air quality and public health," said Ron de Burger of the Canadian Public Health Association.

"It can also mean huge economic savings."

The Ontario Medical Association has estimated smog costs $1 billion annually in hospital admissions, emergency room visits and absenteeism in Ontario alone.

The federal government has estimated that up to 16,000 premature deaths per year in Canada can be attributed to air pollutants.

More than 2,000 doctors have signed a statement circulated by the David Suzuki Foundation, urging "prompt and effective ratification and implementation of the Kyoto protocol in Canada."

Suzuki said health benefits have been overlooked in the ongoing debate about Kyoto.

"You're talking human lives as well," he said. "I think what the doctors are saying is this hasn't even been included in the equation."

This summer brought a record number of smog advisories in Toronto, and the trend will worsen with global warming, said Alan Abelsohn of the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

"My patients suffered more from heat and air pollution than ever before, and expressed outrage at the worsening situation."

Smog is worse on hot days because heat accelerates chemical reactions among pollutants.

Estimates of Kyoto's impact to date have focused almost entirely on economic costs and job losses, and there has been spectacular variation in the predictions.

A discussion paper released in May said no existing jobs would be lost but economic growth would be reduced by 1.7 percentage points from 2000 to 2012.

News reports Wednesday cited government figures as showing the treaty would cost about 200,000 jobs and up to 1.5 per cent in lost economic growth by 2010.

A study prepared by the Tellus Institute, a U.S. consulting group, predicted a gain of 52,000 jobs by 2012 due to investment in energy-efficient technologies.

"There's all sorts of figures being thrown out on that," Chretien said Wednesday in Windsor where he met Ontario Premier Ernie Eves. The prime minister gave no hint of being swayed by the campaign against ratification.

"We have some obligations, international and Canadian obligations, (and) we owe it to our grandchildren to fight the problem of climate change," he said.

"We have to work with the provinces, we have to work with the different sectors to make sure this operation will be done in such a way that the economy will not suffer."

Eves was relatively supportive of Chretien on the issue, despite speculation that Ontario will join Alberta in its fierce anti-Kyoto campaign.

"Everybody's in favour of reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Eves. "I don't think that's the issue."

"I'm not planning on losing any jobs in the province of Ontario as a result of any reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

"In fact, I could make the argument that through new technologies, you could improve the economy by developing those new technologies. But I do think we have to have a plan, and that's really all myself and other premiers have been saying."

In Halifax, Environment Minister David Anderson emphatically denied reports that cost figures were deleted from briefing materials provided to cabinet Tuesday.

"There were no documents lost, no documents suppressed," he said. "We have had literally hundreds of studies done over the last five years or 10 years since Rio."

"As we know, the province of Alberta is saying that 450,000 jobs would be lost. They're advertising to this effect, but they forget that this analysis was based on the fact that Canada would be the only country in the world to ratify Kyoto."


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Copyright 2002 The Halifax Herald Limited