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Ahead of a grim summer, pressure mounts on Federal Government for effective climate action

Alison Barrett writes:

As Australia faces a dry, hot summer, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has called for the Federal Government to urgently implement the National Health and Climate Strategy so we have a “robust national system” to better respond to climate change.

“We have already seen the heatwave this week felt in many parts of the country and a catastrophic fire warning issued in the NSW South Coast causing schools to be shut down,” RACP President Dr Jacqueline Small said in a statement today.

“The work must begin now to ensure our system does not just cope with a changing environment but can meet the challenges head-on and thrive,” she said.

In light of heatwave warnings and bushfires in New South Wales and Tasmania this week, it is critical that communities, services, individuals and businesses understand and actively plan for climate risks.

Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories and Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain told RN Breakfast on Wednesday morning the Federal Government has addressed many of the recommendations from the Bushfire Royal Commission in preparation for the upcoming season.

On a state level, however, land management including backburning operations is “still not a priority”.

McBain said more communities are prepared with their own fire plans now, “which is positive”.

National health and climate strategy

A spokesperson for Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney told Croakey that the Government is currently developing the National Health and Climate Strategy and it is anticipated the Strategy will be released in late 2023. The Strategy will lay out a plan of action over the next three years.

“We have held more than 15 workshops and roundtables across Australia, spoken to more than 300 stakeholders, and sought feedback from different community groups and specifically First Nations people.

“We have also published a consultation paper on the Strategy, which lays out the plan, stemming from the 277 submissions from members of the public,” the spokesperson said.

A presentation at the Greening the Healthcare Sector forum last week provided an update, including that the final Strategy would include a focus on developing a National Active Transport Strategy, as well as efforts to reduce unnecessary tests and scans, and work on sustainable procurement and a circular economy.

Global calls for action

Meanwhile, ahead of the UN General Assembly and Climate Ambition Summit in New York this week, more than 220 world leaders signed an open letter urging the Federal Government “to prevent any further new fossil fuel developments in Australia”.

Additionally, thousands of people have marched in New York City and other places this week demanding a global end to fossil fuels.

At the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledged the recent floods in Libya, which left the city of Derna devastated and in critical need of emergency healthcare, water and sanitation, food and heavy equipment to help clear debris.

Guterres said: “Climate chaos is breaking new records, but we cannot afford the same old broken record of scapegoating and waiting for others to move first.

“Our world is becoming unhinged, geopolitical tensions are rising, global challenges are mounting, and we seem incapable of coming together to respond.

“We confront a host of existential threats – from the climate crisis to disruptive technologies – and we do so at a time of chaotic transition.”

Guterres said that the move to a multipolar world is, in many ways, positive as it brings opportunities for balance and justice in international relations.

He also emphasised that we have the tools required to act and important new agreements on safeguarding biodiversity but that strong determination is needed to tackle “our overheating planet”.

He called on leaders to end coal and fossil fuel subsidies, and for all countries to urgently operationalise the loss and damage fund.

You can watch live proceedings of the Summit here from 10am (in New York) 20 September 2023.

Mission zero

The benefits to our health from stronger and urgent climate action “are undeniable”, according to a new report by the Climate Council of Australia that calls on Australia’s leaders to rise to the challenge and seize “all the opportunities now before us”.

“At its heart,” the report says, “climate action is about protecting the people, the places, and the things that we not only love but ultimately depend upon for our health and wellbeing.”

Dedicated to Professor Will Steffen, the new report builds on the 2021 Aim High, Go Fast report by Steffen, updated with new science and data on climate change.

Stronger climate action this decade will deliver better and cleaner air quality, fewer deadly heatwaves, improved mental health, affordable and reliable energy, and more and better jobs, the report said.

Additionally, emphasising the disproportionate impact on those who have often contributed the least and with fewer resources to respond to climate change, strong action on climate will mean fewer people being forced from their land and homes, and more First Nations communities being able to maintain their continuous connection to Country.

“Choices made today will substantially shape the kind of world that younger Australians inherit,” said the report.

However, “the window for avoiding catastrophe is now even narrower” than it was in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed.

Echoing Guterres’s comments, the report says it is possible for Australia to reach net zero by 2035 as we have the technology and the economy, but “it requires an all-in effort that builds upon our modest progress to date”.

Professor Lesley Hughes, one of the report’s authors, says there is a “cognitive dissonance” between Labor’s stated commitment to addressing climate change and its policies on fossil fuels.

Toll on mental wellbeing

More than half of Australians who have experienced an extreme weather disaster since 2019 have experienced some impact on their mental health and about 20 percent said the disaster had a major or moderate impact on their mental health, the report showed.

While Australians everywhere felt the impacts on mental health, not surprisingly those living outside of cities are more likely to have been affected by flooding or bushfires since 2019, but less likely to have access to mental health support than their city counterparts.

The mental health toll of climate change is greater in people aged between 18 and 34 years compared to older people.

The report said one antidote to climate anxiety is for communities to work together to find local climate solutions.

Further reading

Worried about heat and fire this summer? Here’s how to prepare, The Conversation 18 September 2023

What are ‘planetary boundaries’ and why should we care? The Conversation, 19 September 2023

From Twitter


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