Climate change: Health leaders’ call to implement a plan that will save lives

NSW South Coast, December 2019

Health leaders are meeting at the Better Futures Forum in Canberra today to call for urgent implementation of a national climate-health action plan. 

Leaders from 40+ health and medical organisations, including the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, will discuss the urgent priorities for the government’s proposed national climate-health plan as laid out in a joint statement. The groups are calling for:

  • A Ministerial Forum to coordinate across health, climate and other portfolios;
  • A national health vulnerability and capacity assessment of the populations most susceptible to climate-health impacts;
  • An evaluation of the health and economic damages from climate change, and the health and economic benefits of climate policies;
  • Establish a Sustainable Healthcare Unit in the Department of Health to guide the health sector towards environmentally sustainable, low-carbon operations and support state and territory health jurisdictions to decarbonise.

Founder of the Climate and Health Alliance, Fiona Armstrong says, “We have created a suite of recommendations to prepare and protect people and the health system from the now inevitable impacts of climate change. Our vision is for equitable health and wellbeing, a regenerative economy, and social, environmental and cultural justice.”

In this year alone, 23 people died in floods following a three-week deluge of rain along the east coast. The Northern Rivers area surrounding Lismore is struggling with remediation and clean up, lack of housing, mental health stress, and outbreaks of disease festering in “flood mud” contaminated by sewage, chemicals and detritus.

From 1991 to 2018, there were 3,000 additional deaths in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne attributed to extreme heat, exacerbated by extreme heat. The 48.9-degree extreme heat event in Penrith in 2019 led to rises in heat stress episodes, heat stroke and hyperthermia. Forecasts show that western Sydney can expect up to two months of extreme heat events yearly, with consistent temperatures of 35 degrees or more.

President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Dr Jacqueline Small: “Climate change is already killing Australians. The pressure on the health system and our health professionals is immense – all in the middle of a global pandemic.”

During the 2019-30 bushfire seasons across south-eastern Australia, 33 people were killed directly by the fires. It is estimated that around 445 people died from smoke inhalation, with over 3,000 people admitted to hospital for respiratory problems and 1,700 people for asthma.

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