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Health concerns are centre stage as the National Climate Risk Assessment rolls out

The Federal Government has released the first stage of a National Climate Risk Assessment, and is also seeking feedback on an issues paper guiding development of a National Adaptation Plan.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy and Water is hosting a public webinar on the issues paper and development of the National Adaptation Plan, from 3:30-4:30pm AEDT on 26 March. Perhaps some Croakey readers might like to attend?


Melissa Sweet writes:

The impacts of climate change upon health and healthcare feature prominently in the first stage of the National Climate Risk Assessment.

Produced by the Department of Climate Change, Energy and Water, and the Australian Climate Service, the assessment identifies 11 priority risks, as outlined below.

A detailed technical analysis of these 11 priority risks is now underway, to inform the second pass assessment, which is due by the end of this year, and will be followed by the release of a detailed National Climate Risk Assessment report.

The first stage reviewed climate risks within eight systems of national importance, and also considered how risks can compound, cascade, and aggregate across these systems:

  • Defence and national security
  • Economy, trade and finance.
  • First Nations values and knowledges
  • Health and social support
  • Infrastructure and built environment
  • Natural environment
  • Primary industries and food
  • Regional and remote communities.

The first pass assessment of First Nations climate risks is still underway, according to the report, which says this work requires a longer timeframe, recognising the diversity of climate risk interpretations and experiences among First Nations peoples.

The report notes that First Nations communities are experiencing multiple impacts from climate change. “Caring for Country through applying First Nations values, knowledges and cultural practices is critical to addressing the cumulative impacts of climate change that are being experienced by First Nations communities,” it says.

The report warns that Australia will continue to see an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme events, and says climate change poses a significant societal challenge with wide-reaching implications for all Australians.

“The escalating risks, impacts, and associated losses require proactive preparation, management, and strategic investments in adaptation. It is imperative to safeguard our society, communities, and economy by understanding, and where possible, addressing these effects now,” it says.

The report cites IPCC projections of a median warming of around 2°C by 2050, and says the most likely range for future global temperatures by the end of the century is around 2.7°C.

Health is everywhere

As many Croakey readers will appreciate, some of the identified risks with big implications for health and healthcare are in the non-health sections of the report.

The section on risks to social cohesion, for example, is pertinent.

“A more polarised or fearful social environment due to climate-related impacts, could lead to a potential breakdown in community ties and social cohesion,” says the report.

“This could be exacerbated by frequent exposure of civilians to extreme events and may lead to domestic security challenges.”

Likewise, concurrent, compounding and more frequent extreme events and hazards could also adversely impact emergency management services which may be increasingly under pressure and unable to cope after a disaster.

“This could negatively impact the capacity of charities and non-government organisations to provide support to communities, and in dire circumstances, result in civil unrest,” says the report.

The section on risks to governance will no doubt be of interest to many decision makers in the health and social sectors, as it highlights the need for policies that are “robust and adaptable” and flexible governance structures.

“A significant challenge lies in collaborating across different governmental tiers, from federal to local. A lack of coordination may lead to fragmented or even conflicting approaches, hindering cohesive climate adaptation efforts,” says the report.

“A lack of alignment between the most urgent climate risks and governance priorities may adversely impact the effectiveness of adaptation strategies, if critical vulnerabilities remain unaddressed.”

The report also addresses the importance of managing risks to supply and service chains, which, as the COVID pandemic reminded us, can have significant health implications.

“Increases in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, including floods, heatwaves, bushfires, and storms may adversely impact critical and essential supply chains,” it says.

“Damage and disruptions to energy sources, buildings and transport infrastructure can impact telecommunications, banking facilities, the transport and storage of materials and the supply of fuel, food and medication.” Clearly all of these issues have the potential to affect delivery of health and social services.

Health impacts

The report also examines the risks to health and wellbeing through gradual changes as well as disasters and extreme weather events such as bushfires, floods and storms.

“Increasing average temperatures, hot days, and heatwaves cause heat-related illness and raise mortality due to acute conditions such as heatstroke, as well as exacerbations of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular, renal, and respiratory diseases.

“Older, younger, and pregnant people, occupationally exposed workers, those with pre-existing illnesses and people with poor quality or insecure housing are some of the key at-risk groups.

“The health impacts of heat and extreme weather can also result in increased accidental and occupational injuries and have secondary impacts such as reduced or lost economic productivity.

“Heatwaves, particularly when compounded by other hazards or coupled with vulnerability factors such as low-quality housing, can also impact mental health and general wellbeing.”

The report also highlights the potential for climate risks to increase inequity as a result of impacts on the wider determinants of health, and reduce access to health and social support services.

Those at risk include include regional and remote communities, the very young, the elderly, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, socio-economically disadvantaged, and those with pre-existing illnesses, such as respiratory diseases.

While the assessment does not mention the National Health and Climate Strategy or how it fits with this process, the issues paper says the department and the Department of Health and Aged Care “will work closely together to ensure the National Adaptation Plan and the National Health Adaptation Plan are informed by the 2023 consultations to develop the National Health and Climate Strategy”.

Further, the paper says the National Adaptation Plan and the National Health Adaptation Plan will progress action on priorities identified in the Strategy, for example in the areas of preventive health, workforce, and communications.

Further reading

First National Climate Risk Assessment report released

National Climate Risk Assessment and National Adaptation Plan – DCCEEW

National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy – DCCEEW


See Croakey’s archive of articles on the National Health and Climate Strategy