The health of Australians is being threatened by persistent fossil fuel addiction, warns the MJA-Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change 2022. The report draws together a multi-disciplinary research team that tracks the health impacts of climate change, and health benefits of accelerated climate action, and was launched by the Australian National University in Canberra*.
This year’s review confirms Australians’ health is being jeopardised by increasing exposure to extreme fire danger, life-threatening heat, and severe drought, as a result of accelerated climate change. Our changing climate is also causing more people to be affected and displaced by weather-related disasters.
"In 2020, more than 52,000 people in Australia were displaced by weather-related disasters, mostly fires and floods,” says Professor Hilary Bambrick, Director of NCEPH and co-author on the report.
“Repeat extreme events at shortening intervals highlights the impacts that climate change is having on our mental health, with people and communities not only having to cope with the trauma and loss from a single event, but also the cumulative impacts of multiple events and with no recovery time in between.”
The report also found that Australia’s health systems are largely underprepared for the impacts of climate change, and showing signs of strain from increases in climate change-related healthcare demand, adding onto the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also confirms that Australia’s energy, transport, food, and healthcare systems remain carbon intensive and polluting, threatening the health and wellbeing of present and future generations.
“In a land with abundant renewable energy, we’re inexplicably still seeing approvals for coal and gas expansion. Any expansion of fossil fuel is not at all compatible with limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees – the commitment made at the 2015 climate negotiations in Paris,” says Bambrick.
Key policy recommendations from the Countdown coalition include developing health and climate change plans at all levels of government; more consistently aligning government energy policies with the goals of the Paris Agreement; and incorporating environmental sustainability principles in an upcoming update of the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
“Australia is taking positive steps to both prepare for an increasingly hostile climate, and to reduce the emissions that contribute to warming the planet, however progress remains painfully and unnecessarily slow,” says Bambrick.
In implementing recommendations of the report, the authors are urging governments to seek, fund, and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership. This should occur in recognition of the positive outcomes that are generated through First Nations-led approaches to climate and health challenges.
As climate risks escalate, actions to ensure a liveable future can no longer be delayed. The report calls for a health-centred, low carbon response to this challenge, and hope this will offer a renewed opportunity to deliver a world in which people can not only survive, but thrive.
*The MJA-Lancet Countdown launch was hosted by NCEPH as the National Arboretum on 2 November. The event was hosted by report co-author Professor Sharon Friel, Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Governance, ANU, with Welcome to Country by Ngunnawal Elder, Ms Serena Williams.
Presentations were given by Professor Steve Robson, AMA President; Dr Jacquiline Small, RACP President; Dr Alice McGushin, University College London; and Dan Ilic, climate activist and comedian. A panel discussion, led by Dan Ilic, included Associate Professor Aparna Lal, NCEPH ANU; Kerryn Coleman, ACT Chief Health Officer; and Francis Nona, University of Queensland.