In response to the 2020 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change which has revealed the most concerning trends in climate change impacts to date, DEA is urging the Australian government to heed the report’s warnings and take immediate action.
The authoritative report states that federal government has made minimal progress on mitigation and adaptation measures, and unless urgent action is taken, climate impacts are set to worsen, with our health systems at risk of becoming overwhelmed and unprepared.
Released today, the report is a collaboration between experts from more than 35 institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO), World Meteorological Organization, and led by University College London.
DEA Honorary Secretary Dr Richard Yin says, “This report is sobering in outlining the escalating health impacts from climate change happening now around the world.
“As the recent Summer of Fires have shown, Australia is highly vulnerable to a warming climate. It is time for the Australian government to act urgently on this health emergency with policies that recognise the fact that climate change, health and a resilient economy are mutually dependent.”
The report describes Australia as experiencing one of the largest rises in fire risk of any country, with an annual average increase of almost 31 days of high to extreme fire danger compared with the early 2000s.
The horror bushfires of spring and summer 2019-20 occurred during Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, highlighting Australia’s significant vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change.
Forty-one people died as a direct result of the fires. Smoke exposure resulted in an estimated 417 excess deaths, 1,305 emergency department presentations for asthma and 3,151 hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. The long-term effects of bushfire smoke exposure are unknown, as are the enduring mental health impacts of the catastrophic fire season.
The report also notes that heat-related mortality in the over-65s in Australia has been rising steadily over the last two decades, reaching 1,750 in 2018.
The report makes three “win-win-win” policy recommendations that preserve the climate, protect public health, and promote economic sustainability:
1. Invest in health:-Direct stimulus spending and scaling up renewable energy and public and active transport infra-structure -Rapid transition away from coal and natural gas is critical.
Significant health benefits would arise from reduced air pollution and increased physical activity, as well as the longer-term health benefits of mitigating climate change.
As the Australian Government attempts to steer the country out of the COVID-19 economic crisis, it has an unparalleled opportunity to reduce the impact of future economic shocks arising from climate change, while reducing the current health and economic costs of fossil fuel combustion. In Australia, the health costs of atmospheric air pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels are estimated at $5.3 billion per year.
2. Foster resilience: Prepare and support communities affected by climate disasters through disaster planning, preparation and education, community healthcare delivery, development of community renewable energy systems; and restoration of ecosystems informed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
3. Protect wellbeing by developing a national climate change and health strategy: This should address both climate mitigation and adaptation, and encompass prevention, planning and preparedness; climate-health research; resilience and sustainability of the healthcare system and health equity.
The report notes that Australia’s state, territory, and local governments have shown leadership on climate change and health system planning. The national government however has so been slow to adopt mitigation and adaptation measures.
Australia’s relative success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic has shown its capacity to respond effectively to public health threats when there is “prompt, evidence-informed, coordinated intervention” across all levels of government.
The public health threats posed by climate change demand a similar response.
For more information on the 2020 report of the Lancet Countdown: https://www.lancetcountdown.org
To view the compelling video of Dr Kim Loo speaking on the effects of climate change on her patients: