News & Media Media Releases Media release: Australia’s peak medical groups unite for a climate-focussed healthy recovery from COVID-19

Media release: Australia’s peak medical groups unite for a climate-focussed healthy recovery from COVID-19

Joint letter from DEA, AMA, RACGP, RACP, ACEM, RANZCP, RANZCOG, ACRRM, CICM, and AMSA to Prime Minister Scott Morrison 
Australia’s peak medical groups, representing around 90,000 or 75% of the nation’s doctors have today written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging him to act on climate change as part of the COVID-19 pandemic economic response, in order to better invest in Australians’ health.

Coordinated by Doctors for the Environment Australia, the signatories to the letter represent the nation’s GPs, emergency room doctors, physicians, obstetricians, psychiatrists and other disciplines. Many of these professionals are on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The letter is signed by Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA), the Australian Medical Association (AMA), The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), College of Intensive Care Medicine (CICM), and Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA). 

The letter states, in part: 
The world is in the middle of two global health emergencies: the viral pandemic and climate change. As we continue efforts to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we must ensure that we also have a whole-of-government approach towards addressing climate change, which also has potentially catastrophic health impacts. Carbon pollution and associated global warming will have profound consequences on the fundamentals of human health: clean air, water, access to food and a safe climate. 

The letter highlights this year’s unprecedented summer of bushfires and associated smoke pollution which together claimed more than 400 lives, and resulted in the hospitalisation of more than 3000 people for heart and lung problems. The letter also notes the psychological health impacts that are likely to be present for decades. 

To reduce carbon emissions, which also worsens air pollution, the letter calls for: • a transition away from fossil fuels -both coal and gas- to renewable energy. • investment in projects and technologies that preserve our natural environment  • investment in green infrastructure and public transport, which would have the additional benefits of promoting physical activity that would reduce diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and substantially improve air quality. 

The letter concludes: Australia has an unparalleled opportunity to act on climate change and invest in a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future. We urge the Australian government to ensure that health remains a central focus of all aspects of the COVID-19 economic recovery and to support a healthy transition to a climate resilient economy.

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA), Honorary Secretary Dr Richard Yin
“Like COVID-19, climate change is a public health emergency that must be addressed urgently. “As with COVID-19, we need to act early to prevent climate warming impacts such as the horrendous bushfires and smoke pollution that millions of Australians experienced over summer; to base our actions on expert scientific and health advice; and to have a whole-of-government approach that prioritises public health first and foremost. “The post-COVID recovery offers an unprecedented opportunity to reject developments that are destructive to our environment, particularly those that drive greenhouse gas emissions, and adopt policies that promote environmental sustainability as well as investments in renewable power for a cleaner, healthier future.” 

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Dr Lara Roeske  RACGP spokesperson Dr Lara Roeske said Australia had a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a real difference for patient health into the future. “Climate change is a public health emergency – it is already having a real life impact on patients across Australia, the devastating bushfires and hazardous smoke last summer being just one example.  “As our political leaders now look to develop economic recovery plans after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make peoples’ health a priority. We need a whole of government approach to address climate change and its catastrophic health impacts.” 

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) spokesperson and public health physician, Associate Professor Linda Selvey  “The Australian Government is facing one of the largest public health challenges that Australia, and the world, has experienced in decades.  “While COVID-19 poses the most immediate threat to our health, the serious and long-term health impacts of climate change still remain. We have already seen the loss of life and harm to health and livelihoods caused by bushfires, drought, heat and flooding over the last year and the severity of extreme weather events will increase without urgent climate action.  “While our Federal Governments direct their resources to tackling the global pandemic in front of us right now, during the recovery phase we need to turn our focus to the public health crisis that is being caused by climate change.  “It’s vital that climate change and its impacts on public health are central to the Federal Government’s COVID-19 recovery plan. This must include action to reduce our carbon emissions through investment in greener, cleaner energy sources and active and public transport infrastructure, which will also bring health benefits through reduced air pollution and increased physical activity.” 

College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand (CICM) President, Dr Mary Pinder  “The phase of planning economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportune moment to focus on climate change and health and for us all to act together to develop strategies that reduce carbon emissions and contribute to environmental sustainability.” 

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), Dr Lai Heng Foong “The lockdown during COVID-19 has reduced CO2 emissions significantly. Although this was an unintended consequence of governments globally to reduce transmission of Covid-19, the net result was remarkable, and it shows that where there is political will, it is possible to reduce emissions. “The last year has been a real life demonstration of what unchecked global warming and climate change can do to our communities. The prolonged bushfire season this summer took a massive toll on our communities, with loss of lives, livelihood, property and flora and fauna.  “As health professionals it was heartbreaking to see the health impacts of the bushfire and prolonged air pollution. “This natural disaster was immediately followed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  “We need collective action, including government response to reduce our CO2 emissions, transition to renewable energy sources and build community resilience. Our future is at stake, and we need action now.” 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), President, Associate Professor John Allan “As psychiatrists, we see the mental health effects and distress from the community associated with drought, floods and other natural disasters – such as the recent bushfires – brought on by the impact of climate change and other environmental issues. “The impacts of COVID-19 and its associated restrictions, compounded by the unintended impacts of economic disruption, have highlighted the need for targeted investment by governments to mitigate the physical and mental health effects of large scale public health and economic crises. “In our responses to these events, we are seeing the emergence of a new spirit of belief, shared purpose and co-operation that we can work effectively together as communities to meet significant challenges and achieve immensely positive health and social outcomes. “Governments across the political spectrum, decision makers and the wider community are increasingly listening to (and trusting) leading scientists, clinical voices and health experts and drawing on their advice to shape policy, practices and behaviours. “The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists believes there are clear lessons to learn from these experiences, and that now is the time to act and invest in a healthier and more sustainable future. “We have an unparalleled opportunity to put our physical and mental health at the centre of more holistic and whole-of-government approach to an economic recovery that also addresses the pressing impacts of climate emergency.” 

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), President Dr Vijay Roach “It is the responsibility of governments, institutions and individuals, to urgently address the causes and impacts of climate change. “Australia must introduce policies to reduce carbon emissions, and slow environmental degradation, for the benefit of women and girls and the entire population.” 

Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), President Dr Ewen McPhee “People living in rural and remote areas, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, are particularly vulnerable to the mental and physical health impacts of disasters, whether they be pandemics, bushfires, droughts or floods.  “ACRRM supports government working with all stakeholders, including the scientific community, to address the causes and minimise impacts of disasters in the future.” 

Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA), President Mr Daniel Zou “Australian medical students have nominated climate change and health as one of AMSA’s top national advocacy priorities for 2020. In 2020, we have updated our National Policy on Climate Change & Health with renewed calls for climate health education in medical education and a greater emphasis on sustainability within healthcare. “AMSA National Council 2, announced a public declaration of climate health emergency in July 2020. As medical students jointly call on the Government and healthcare stakeholders to haste progress on preparedness on the climate change impacts on health or Australians, AMSA has set an example internally for fellow medical student organisations: AMSA is proud to have completely divested from fossil fuel in 2020. “AMSA’s divestment efforts have been ongoing since our commitment at AMSA Global Health Conference 2018. “It is fantastic to see AMSA finally divest during 2020, a key milestone in fulfilling our climate change aspirations and hopefully a standard set for other peer organisations.” 

Media contact Doctors for the Environment Australia, Media and Communications Coordinator Carmela Ferraro- 0410 703 074 Lara Nicholson, Climate Media Centre-0431 050 768 

Resources Joint letter 

Forty million global health professionals have urged governments to put public health at the core of the covid-19 economic recovery
World Health Organization (WHO) Manifesto for a Healthy Recovery from COVID-19