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Doctors take to the streets, medical colleges declare a health emergency, and communities suffer climate health impacts

Introduction by Croakey: Three specialist medical colleges today declared climate change a health emergency: the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).

Meanwhile, as emergency medicine physicians attending an ACEM conference marched through the streets of nipaluna/Hobart today calling for climate action, the health impacts of extreme weather events were being felt around the country.

Communities confronted heatwaves, bushfires, dust storms and smoke haze, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison continued to fail to provide climate leadership, and Oxford Dictionaries declared “climate emergency” the word of the year for 2019.

The dictionary’s word of the year is chosen to “reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year” and should have “lasting potential as a term of cultural significance”, according to The Guardian.

Amy Coopes, who filmed and photographed the #ACEM19 march, reports below for the Croakey Conference News Service.

(See this 40-page photo spread from the march).


Amy Coopes writes:

The specialist college for Australian and New Zealand emergency doctors has declared climate change a population health emergency, marching through the streets of central Hobart to demand action from governments in an unprecedented political demonstration.

Dr John Bonning, president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), made the climate emergency declaration during a climate-themed plenary session at its annual professional meeting, which began its final day with a peaceful protest march.

“Today ACEM joins other peak medical bodies from Australia, New Zealand and the world in declaring climate change and the threats it poses, a medical emergency,” Bonning told delegates, saying the evidence was clear for their specialty.

He said:

“Projections show that climate change will cause a significant rise in the number of overall ED [emergency department] presentations, an increase in the complexity of presentations as well as surges resulting from climate disasters.

With the research also showing that climate change will exacerbate existing health inequities, we have an obligation and responsibility as emergency doctors to speak up, take action ourselves and demand action from government.

For the good of our patients, hospitals, communities and world, we must take urgent action on this population health emergency.”

Bonning said the emergency declaration was contained in the College’s Position Statement on Climate Change and Health, which was unveiled today (Thursday) at the ASM.

It reads:

ACEM considers climate change and the associated health impacts to be a population health emergency.

Climate change presents an immediate risk to the capacity and ability of EDs, health systems and the medical workforce to cope with increased demand and more frequent and intense disasters. Climate change is a medical emergency; it thus demands an emergency response. ACEM calls for urgent action to establish mechanisms to mitigate and adapt to these threats to ensure the ongoing sustainability of our health systems. There is an immediate need for EDs to be resourced in order to meet increased demand resulting from climate change.

ACEM calls on governments at all levels, including the Commonwealth of Australia and the New Zealand Government, to take immediate and sustained action to address and mitigate the impacts that this climate emergency presents.

ACEM supports efforts to minimise the impact of climate change and actively supports measures to reduce the carbon footprint of hospitals and health systems.

This year’s ACEM meeting is themed ‘The Changing Climate of Emergency Medicine’, and has focused on the health impacts of climate change and advocacy, with the annual oration delivered by former Greens leader Bob Brown.

This morning, hundreds of conference delegates gathered outside Royal Hobart Hospital to march through central Hobart calling for climate action, a demonstration the kinds of which Brown said he had never seen before in Australia.

Shadow health minister Chris Bowen expressed his support for the action in an interview with Croakey earlier this week.

The protesting doctors – many in scrubs and stethoscopes, and a number marching with their young children – called for climate action ‘STAT’, and resuscitation of the planet.

Elaborately made up local members of Extinction Rebellion gathered on the steps of the conference venue to welcome marchers at the conclusion of their demonstration.

“Emergency physicians know an emergency when we see one,” Bonning told Croakey as he marched with the group.

“We’re not the loony left, we’re not an extreme organisation, we’re normal people and we’re concerned about the environment , our children’s future, and the future of the planet.”

Bonning, newly-elected as head of the College and the first New Zealander to hold the role, has described sustainability – personal, professional and planetary – as a priority for his presidency.

He said emergency departments and hospitals had an important role in mitigating climate change and reducing their own impact on the environment, with the health system a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

“We also recognise that emergency physicians have a role as resource stewards and advocates in their departments and healthcare organisations to reduce waste and emissions,” he said.

From Twitter

Read the ACEM #ClimateEmergency media release.

Read the ACEM Position Statement on Climate Change and Health.

Watch our footage of the climate march.

See the RACP statement and ACRRM statement.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists also issued a statement on climate change and health this week. You can read it here.


The 2019 ACEM ASM was held in Hobart from November 17-21. Amy Coopes is covering it for the Croakey Conference News Service. Bookmark this link to follow our ongoing coverage.

Read our previous ACEM ASM coverage here and here.

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