Warning over health impacts of climate change

Australian Medical Association/AusMed

Global Health Alliance Australia has issued a nine-point plan to the Federal Government, with recommendations on how to address the health impacts of climate change.

Launching its report From Townsville to Tuvalu, the Alliance highlights the dangers to health in Australia and the Asia Pacific region from escalating severe climate change.

The report is a call to mitigate avoidable adverse health impacts by investing in prevention initiatives.

Climate change will cost the economy billions of dollars through illness, disease, work absenteeism, and food and water contamination.

The report also urges the Government to prioritise its $2 billion regional infrastructure fund to help out vulnerable Pacific islands.

The Alliance, comprising 47 medical, aid, and research groups, found: “The impacts of climate change on our health include potential for increased prevalence of many other conditions: heat illness, asthma, heart disease, anaemia, injuries, and other infectious diseases including diarrhoea. Many of our water sources will become undrinkable. Climate change has even been linked to depression.”

The nine-point plan is:

  • Publicly recognise the health impacts of climate change.
  • The priorities articulated by Health Ministers in the Pacific should drive Australia’s investments there.
  • Equip the current and future workforce in Australia and across the Asia Pacific region for emerging threats to health from climate change.
  • Devise an implementation agenda for addressing the health impacts of climate change by, among other things, undertaking a benchmark National Health Survey in Australia which includes questions to understand the environmental drivers of poor health, including the impacts of climate change.
  • Support direct action in Australia through State and Local Government Area-based public health strategies.
  • Establish a multi-institutional Health and Climate Change Research Facility, based in rural Australia.
  • Increase financial investment that would facilitate innovation and opportunities to develop effective health adaptations and low/zero-emissions initiatives – focusing on rural Australia and the Pacific.
  • Support proven solutions that address the impact of climate change on health.
  • Support policy initiatives that involve the community and citizens.

The AMA’s Position Statement on Climate Change and Human Health states: “The direct effects of climate change include injuries and deaths from increased heat stress, floods, fires, drought, and increased frequency of intense storms. The indirect effects include adverse changes in air pollution, the spread of disease vectors, lost work capacity and reduced labour productivity, food insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement, and mental ill-health.”

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone spoke about the recently released IPCC report.

“The 2018 report shows that the magnitude of projected heat-related morbidity and mortality would be even greater with global warming at 2°C than by limiting global warming at 1.5°C,” Dr Bartone said.

“The impact on human life is significant. The AMA urges the Government to seriously consider these predictions and act accordingly.”

An AMA submission to the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications’ Inquiry into current and future impacts of climate change on housing, buildings and infrastructure noted that: “The AMA has significant concerns regarding the preparedness of the healthcare system to withstand the challenges of increasingly common and severe extreme weather events. To ensure that future generations of Australians continue to be provided world class care, significant funding and preparedness planning is required to overcome the challenges that climate change presents.”

Echoing comments made when the AMA called for the establishment of a Centre for Disease Control, the Alliance warns that disease knows no borders.


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