Climate Change and Environment
Health needs to be part of Australia’s climate solution
Healthcare contributes seven per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions – but health is missing from our COP26 plan, says the Climate and Health Alliance.
While other countries turned up to the COP26 conference with health factored into their climate plans, Australia was “missing in action”, says the Alliance’s Executive Director, Fiona Armstrong.
She says this is a lost opportunity: health systems are well placed to be a significant part of the solution, as climate change drives poorer health outcomes and increases deaths and health inequities.
According to a recent analysis of Australian policy, there is little recognition at the Common-wealth level of the health impacts of climate change.
The federal government’s pamphlet, The Plan to Deliver Net Zero: The Australian Way, doesn’t address the risks and opportunities for the health sector, despite its significant contribution to national emissions.
This emission contribution is largely from public and private hospitals, which have huge energy demands, largely met by coal-powered electricity. Also, the production of pharmaceuticals is extremely energy intensive.
Ahead of COP26, Australia’s failure to address the health impacts of climate change in its climate plan recently led the Global Climate and Health Alliance to score it 0/15 compared to other countries .
Health groups recently sent Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt an open letter calling on the government to recognise the magnitude of the health emergency caused by climate change and to embrace more ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The letter included a health strategy, the Healthy, Regenerative and Just: Framework for a national strategy on climate, health and well-being for Australia, informed by academics, researchers, health service managers, policymakers, professional associations, unions, and health and medical professionals from many disciplines.
Key recommendations include:
- legislate a 75 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035
- rapidly phase out fossil fuel-based energy and transport and invest in renewable energy resources and infrastructure
- improve the preparedness of health and emergency services to respond to the impacts of climate change, such as increased extreme weather events
- integrate climate risk assessments into all disaster preparedness and health sector planning
- educate and train health professionals to respond to the health impacts of climate change
- establish a roadmap by 2023 to decarbonise healthcare by 2035.
The call from health groups for more ambitious targets came after an MJA–Lancet Countdown report, which issued a “serious health warning” for Australians from heat, bushfires and air pollution, and emphasises the disproportionate health burden borne by Indigenous Australians.
“Australia’s action to address the health impacts of climate change has been described as ‘catastrophic for human health’,” Ms Armstrong said. “It is wrong and unnecessary to endanger Australian lives in this way.”