Major report from health peak body: health impacts of climate change in Australia and the Pacific needs whole-of-government attention
31 July 2019, Melbourne: Australia and neighbouring countries in our region are experiencing more deaths, illnesses and injuries from heatwaves, cyclones and other extreme weather events because of climate change.
The Global Health Alliance Australia – a peak body of 47 global health organisations – has released a landmark report Health and climate change: from Townsville to Tuvalu. The report outlines a nine- point plan which calls on Australia’s Federal, State and local Governments to respond to the health impacts of climate change in Australia and to draw on the $2billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific fund to address serious climate-sensitive health challenges across the region.
“When we understand that climate change is a health issue, and that health is already being affected here in Australia and across the region, it is clear that there is an urgent need for action,” said Professor John Thwaites, former Health Minister of Victoria and Chairman of Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia.
“An effective government response will require interventions from a number of sectors including agriculture, transport, housing, water and sanitation” he added.
“Australians are going to be increasingly vulnerable to many other climate-related health issues, including new infectious diseases, malnutrition and even depression, so the nine-point plan calls for a Benchmark National Health survey which includes questions to understand the environmental drivers of poor health, including the impacts of climate change” said Misha Coleman, Executive Director, Global Health Alliance Australia.
“Most Australians know about the devastating deaths of 173 people because of the Black Saturday bushfires of February, 2009. What is less well known is that during the heatwave, which included three days over 43 degrees Celsius, there were 374 more deaths than expected in a normal week, probably from heat stroke.”
Extreme weather events such as floods can limit the cognitive development of infants and young children. Children who experience extreme weather events before they are born, have on average smaller vocabularies and less imaginative play when they are two years old. These studies examined children whose mothers experienced extreme weather events during pregnancy, including the Canadian Ice Storm and the 2011 Brisbane floods.
We will see new diseases in Australia. Nipah, a bat-borne virus which causes disease in pigs and can be fatal, particularly in humans. Fruit bats in Southeast Asia and Timor Leste, have been shown to have antibodies to this virus and modelling shows that Northern Australia will be increasingly at-risk of this deadly virus becoming established.
“Reducing and adapting to the impacts of climate change on health offers a clear economic imperative and benefit. In particular, preventative and early actions can generate substantial public and private savings over time,” said Professor John Thwaites.
The nine-point plans also recommends tasking the Productivity Commission to assess the cost- effectiveness of action on climate change and the associated co-benefits on our health.
The report published in collaboration with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, includes contributions from Australia’s leading global health organisations.
Executive Director, Global Health Alliance Australia
Phone: +61 428 399 739