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Climate change – Budget recommendations from the health and social welfare sectors

While students and young people around the country take action today on climate change, the health and social welfare sector has been lobbying the Federal Government on this issue through submissions to the upcoming Federal Budget.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and his Opposition counterpart Chris Bowen have just over two weeks before they outline their parties’ spending priorities for the 2019-20 financial year (and beyond).

Today, as part of Croakey’s coverage of this critical pre-election budget, Jennifer Doggett highlights some of the key recommendations from health and social welfare groups on what the World Health Organisation has called the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.


Jennifer Doggett writes:

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) recommends a broad range of strategies to equip and support the health professions for the key role they play in dealing with the health effects of climate change.

It also focusses on the need for Australia to take a leadership role in the Pacific region in supporting countries in the region to respond to the effects of climate change.

Extract from submission

As frontline health professionals, nurses and midwives see the impact of climate change on the health of individuals and communities for whom they provide care. Nurses and midwives see the direct effects from storms, drought, flood, and heatwaves; they experience the indirect effects from altered water quality, air pollution, land use change, and ecological change. The health effects include mental illness, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, infectious disease epidemics, injuries, and poisoning.

 The ANMF, as a member organisation of the Climate and Health alliance (CAHA), supports the Our Climate, Our Health campaign. We endorse the Campaign’s call for the urgent development of a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being for Australia. A Framework for a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being has been developed by CAHA members, including the ANMF, to support a coordinated approach to tackling the health impacts of climate change in Australia; and, to assist Australian policymakers and communities in taking advantage of the health opportunities available from strengthening climate resilience, reducing emissions and protecting our ecosystems.  

 In many Australian health facilities, nurses and midwives are leading the way in introducing environmentally sustainable systems into their workplace practices. These initiatives should be acknowledged, applauded, replicated, and appropriately funded throughout all health and aged care facilities and care delivery settings.

 As the largest member nation of the South Pacific region, which is the most adversely affected region globally, by the impacts of climate change, the Australian government also has a regional responsibility for leading the way in terms of actively supporting its closest neighbours to respond to and mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change.  

Specific recommendations

Develop and implement a standalone, National Plan on Climate, Health and Well-being based on the Framework developed by the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA)

Invest in a sustainable health workforce to prepare the health sector to deal with existing and future health effects of climate change including increased government funding for climate- resilient health systems and climate change mitigation research.

Fund programs and initiatives that support those most adversely impacted by climate change including people living in drought and natural disaster affected regions in Australia and neighbouring regions in the South Pacific.

Ensure a staged transition to zero emissions energy sources as a matter of urgency to avoid dangerous and irreversible impacts on the environment and the health of our communities by;

  • developing a consistent energy policy to rapidly transition from fossil fuels to at least 50% renewable, zero-emission sources by 2030 including a clear strategy to ensure that that fossil fuels workforce is fairly and effectively supported and redeployed .
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to exceed the current 2030 Paris carbon emissions target of 26-28%.
  • phasing-in a fair, and effective carbon tax that does not adversely impact Australian households.
  • Investing greater funding in renewable energy technologies and programs.
  • Developing proactive policies for mining and agriculture to reduce emissions and promote zero-emission technologies.
  • Developing policies that support and incentivise zero-emission public and private transport technologies.
  • Funding states and territories to improve the energy efficiency of hospitals and the reduction of emissions from health and pharmaceutical industry sources.
  • Support policies that reduce company, city, and personal environmental and climate impacts and that incentivise sustainability, zero-emissions options, and reduced environmental impact.
  • Implementing ongoing avoided-deforestation and land clearing and reforestation policies and practices.

The Australian Council of Social Services

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS)’s submission focuses on the relationship between energy consumption and climate change.  It calls on the energy sector to lead Australia’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas consumption and highlights the need for a community-centred approach to meeting the challenges of climate change in a way that protects the most vulnerable.

Extract from submission

The energy sector is Australia’s largest single emitter of greenhouse gases and must be a key part of Australia’s contribution to limit global warming. It also has better access to affordable clean technology than many other sectors, so it can and should transition faster. This must be done in an affordable and equitable way.

Skyrocketing electricity prices, inequitable clean energy policies, and uneven distribution of distributive energy such as household solar and batteries, means low-income households are struggling to heat and cool their homes. They pay disproportionately more of their income on energy bills compared to other households, and lack choice and control over their energy use. Energy affordability and equity measures are needed to relieve financial stress and support the rapid transition to cleaner energy. 

Even if we rapidly reduce emissions, the world has already locked in significant levels of pollution so that sea levels will continue to rise, oceans will acidify, and extreme weather events such as heatwaves, fires, floods and storms will become more common. Policies are needed to build resilience and reduce the impact of climate change on people experiencing poverty and disadvantage to reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

Specific recommendations

The Australian Government should:

1) set a long-term domestic emissions reduction targets to achieve zero net emissions before 2050 and short-term emissions reduction targets of at least 45% by 2030;

2) prioritise the energy sector for faster, early emissions reductions;

3) ensure the target-setting process is consistent with the Paris Agreement

Policies should urgently be implemented to reduce carbon emissions, that are credible (delivering on the Paris target), stable, scalable, low-cost, and equitable, and protect vulnerable groups. These reforms should:

1) preferably take the form of an emission trading scheme (with complementary measures);

2) prioritise the emissions-intensive electricity sector;

3) be informed by a review of the impact on affected groups, such as low-income households, workers and communities, and energy-intensive trade exposed industries and include appropriate equity measures to assist those affected; and

4) raise funds to support the transition for vulnerable groups including households with low incomes, and investment in clean technology and climate resilience.

The Australian government should establish a statutory authority responsible for supporting communities adversely affected by the transition to cleaner energy sources, to:

1) coordinate plans to strengthen regional economic diversity;

2) manage coal closure and oversee worker support;

3) oversee an industry-wide multi-employer pooling and redeployment scheme which provides retrenched workers with the opportunity to transfer to roles with renewable or low-emission generators as well as remaining fossil fuel generators.

Public subsidies that are specifically directed towards the use of fossil fuels should be reviewed and phased out, beginning with the abolition of fuel tax credits for off- road use, except agriculture.

The Australian Government should:

1) coordinate with State and Territory governments to introduce mandatory energy efficiency standards for rental properties, including landlord incentives and safeguards to minimise rent increases;

2) develop a funding mechanism (like the Solar Cities program) in conjunction with State governments, local councils and energy retailers, to provide access to solar photovoltaic technology for households with low-incomes or who are otherwise disadvantaged;

3) work with State governments to create an investment vehicle to invest in solar and energy efficiency equity programs for public and community housing;

4) establish a Clean Energy for Indigenous Communities Fund to invest in energy efficiency improvements for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Australian government should establish a program to support the community sector to:

1) implement the within the community sector, undertake risk assessments and disaster management and service continuity plans;

2) deliver the emergency RediPlan (personal emergency plan) to community sector clients;

3) monitor vulnerable people (especially those who are homeless, living in general public housing and in rooming houses) during emergencies;

4) undertake climate change and extreme weather preparedness and response training for staff and volunteers;

5) raise awareness of the serious risks to its service delivery and to people experiencing poverty from climate change and worsening extreme weather impacts.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) submission highlights the health risks associated with climate change and calls for a national strategy that aligns climate change measures with a broad preventive health agenda.  The RACP also calls for Australia to take a greater role in the Pacific region to support vulnerable countries protect themselves from the effects of climate change.

Extract from submission

Australians are already suffering health impacts including higher rates of respiratory illness, diarrhoea and morbidity requiring hospital admission during hot days, and higher rates of suicide in rural areas during drought years. Unchecked, climate change will not only have serious impacts on human health, but will put pressure on healthcare personnel and delivery of healthcare services as a result of increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

In this respect, climate change can be regarded as a health emergency warranting urgent and decisive government action to address what will be a growing contribution to mortality and morbidity.

The RACP calls on the Government to commit to developing and implementing a national climate and health strategy to reduce the risks to health and realise the health benefits of adaptation and mitigation. The strategy should be closely aligned with obesity-prevention and chronic disease-reduction efforts, such as incentivising fresh vegetable intake, reducing consumption of meat and processed food and cutting food waste will result in improved population-wide health and environmental outcomes.

We also call on the Australian Government continue to enable Pacific Island countries and territories to develop their medical workforce and support development of prevention/mitigation and response measures to climate change. The impact of severe weather events in the Pacific Islands including health impacts due to rising sea levels and biosecurity concerns will be of growing importance in the years to come.

Specific recommendations

Establish a national healthcare sustainable development unit. The unit would draw on local best practice as well as leading international models, such as the Sustainable Development Unit in the UK. The first tasks of the unit would be to:

  • consult with stakeholders;
  • establish a