A new report stating that “the health of the Australian public is uniquely at risk” from the effects of climate change demonstrates the urgent need for the federal government to adopt a National Strategy on Climate Change, Health and Well-being, says the Climate and Health Alliance, Australia’s peak body on climate change and health.
The MJA-Lancet Countdown report details the deaths and health impacts caused by the 2019-20 Australian bushfire season, as well as those from rising temperatures, heatwaves and air pollution overall.
The report highlights the federal government’s lack of leadership and action on climate change, with the federal government so far refusing to join state and territory governments in setting a net-zero emissions target by 2050 at the latest.
However, despite federal government inaction, the report notes an encouraging “growing awareness of and engagement with the links between health and climate change”, demonstrated by increased media coverage and scientific publications in this area.
Alongside the report’s release, prominent medical groups, including the Australian Medical Association, Medical Journal of Australia, Lancet Countdown, Royal Australasian College of Physicians and Australian Medical Students’ Association have called for a national strategy on climate change and health, as well as to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and active and public transport infrastructure; and provide support for communities affected by climate disasters.
As noted by Climate and Health Alliance President and climate-health scientist Dr Rebecca Patrick:
“Climate change is a health emergency that requires urgent government action in order to save lives and protect health.
“This report makes it clear that Australians are already dying from the health impacts caused by worsening climate change.
“We saw this over the 2019-20 summer, where the climate-fuelled bushfires and associated smoke pollution are estimated to have killed 450 people.
“Government action and public cooperation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that society-wide swift action to save lives and protect health in the face of a public health emergency is possible.
“Australia can no longer afford not to have a comprehensive national strategy for addressing climate change, health and well-being.
“The Framework for a National Strategy on Climate Change, Health and Well-being has the support of more than 50 health, social welfare and conservation groups, and this number only continues to grow.
“Ahead of the 2019 Federal Election, Labor, the Greens and key independents, including Zali Steggall MP, committed to supporting a national strategy on climate change and health. It is beyond time that the federal government commits to the same.”