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Now we have a National Health and Climate Strategy, will it be properly implemented and funded?

Serious concerns have been raised about the capacity of the new National Health and Climate Strategy to achieve its stated objectives, due to a lack of detail and commitment on implementation and funding.

The Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) yesterday released its analysis of the strategy, which was launched by Assistant Health and Aged Care Minister Ged Kearney at the COP28 meeting in Dubai on 3 December.

CAHA and others developed a series of metrics to assess implementation, where the gaps are and what should be the focus for climate and health stakeholders in 2024.

The metrics focus on four priority areas:

  1. Embedding a whole of government approach to ensure a comprehensive Strategy, underpinned by social and environmental determinants of health
  2. Genuine inclusion that prioritises First Nations peoples in developing and implementing climate and health policy solutions
  3. An ambitious and comprehensive approach to greening the health sector
  4. Inclusion of mechanisms to enable implementation to meet the urgency of the climate and health crisis.

The scorecard, below, rates the strategy poorly.

Fails include:

  • The lack of commitment and detail on the establishment of an inter-jurisdictional, cross-portfolio advisory board or similar, and the lack of a direct commitment to cross-portfolio collaboration that would see health embedded into climate policies.
  • While the Strategy outlines the importance of climate and health risk assessments as an important tool, it does not commit the Department to supporting any portfolios in developing health risk assessments in climate policy. The Strategy does not include a recognition of fossil fuel extraction and dependency as the driving force behind ill health in the context of climate change, and makes no commitment to supporting health-informed policy development to phase out fossil fuels.
  • While the Strategy recognises the unique impacts of climate change on First Nations peoples’ health and wellbeing, it makes no commitment to implementation, either by funding or the development of governance structures, to support and funds initiatives that recognise First Nations Knowledges, capacity and strengths, and empower First Nations communities to respond and build resilience to climate threats with co-design principles.
  • A lack of commitment to a fully staffed and funded National Health, Sustainability and Climate Unit that is equipped to report on the efficacy and implementation of the Strategy.
  • The Strategy does not make any commitment to fund the development of an implementation plan, nor have there been any public commitments to either developing governance structures.
  • While the Strategy does include ambitions to address workforce development to lead climate and health action, there are no funding commitments to decarbonisation efforts or establishment of a funding program to support health system decarbonisation.

Positives include:

  • Recognition of the importance of climate and health policy to First Nations peoples that is underpinned by genuine engagement and self-determination principles. The Strategy acknowledges colonisation as a determining factor of health outcomes related to climate change for First Nations peoples. The Strategy also recognises the importance of the inclusion of First Nations expertise and knowledge in international climate discussions.
  • The significant commitment to build international collaboration on decarbonisation and sets out clear actions to deliver this objective.
  • A significant commitment to waste reduction throughout health services.
  • Specific commitment to the inclusion of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions in its ambitions for healthcare decarbonisation.
  • Inclusion of consumers, youth and priority populations in decision making and implementation.

Next steps?

CAHA congratulated Minister Kearney MP and “the dedicated team of the National Health, Sustainability and Climate Unit on their commitment” to the strategy’s development.

“With the world watching, and a bid to co-host COP31 with Pacific partners underway, Australia has the opportunity to be a global leader on climate and health. It’s now the Commonwealth’s moment to lose,” said the CAHA analysis.

In 2024, CAHA says it will be crucial for civil society to continue working with the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to ensure the Strategy is implemented in its entirety.

“Without a commitment to funding or implementation, it remains unclear what impact the Strategy will have,” says the analysis. “To ensure its success, governance structures should be established with urgency and funding must be made available to support implementation.”

The analysis also urges the Commonwealth Government to address the underlying driver of climate change — fossil fuel production (stay tuned for a forthcoming Croakey report on COP 28 on related matters).

CAHA said it recognises processes are currently underway via the 2024/25 Commonwealth Budget to fund the implementation of the Strategy. CAHA will publish an updated scorecard mid-2024.

Government responses

Croakey put the following questions to Minister Kearney’s office.

Could the Minister and Department please respond to the concerns raised in the CAHA analysis, including:

  1. Will a detailed implementation plan be released; if so, when?
  2. How will the strategy implementation be funded? What is the estimated cost of implementation over the next year and five years? When will details be made public about funding for the strategy?
  3. Given the urgency of climate action, will the Minister be seeking a funding commitment before or within the next budget process?

We received the reply below.

The Strategy includes timeframes against a number of action items. These will be further developed as the Strategy is implemented in consultation with relevant stakeholders, other agencies and state and territory governments.

The Australian Government committed $3.4 million in the 2022-23 Federal Budget to establish the National Health, Sustainability and Climate Unit to develop and implement the National Health and Climate Strategy.

Future funding to support the Strategy would be considered as part of government budget processes.


Other commentary

A Public Health Association of Australia statement said:

PHAA hopes that this strategy, and its enactment alongside the National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030, are both funded adequately and acted on, so that the many of the health harms from climate change including heat, can be reduced.

We stand alongside many PHAA individuals, and groups like the Climate and Health Alliance and Doctors for the Environment Australia who’ve pushed for this strategy, and look forward to working with them and the government to see the strategy’s potential is fulfilled.

An Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance statement welcomed the strategy as “a game changer” because of its focus on whole-of-government approaches and prevention.

ACDPA applauds the Strategy’s attention to prevention and links to the National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030, noting that vulnerabilities from harms arising from climate change can be avoided or ameliorated by preventing disease as much as possible and detecting and managing disease early and well so to reduce progression and complications, and thus minimise health system demands.

Notably, the Strategy identifies other protective and risk factors for chronic diseases, such as food and physical activity, and determinants, such as commercial and social, including business practices and housing and education, as priority areas for cross-sectoral action.

Statement by Dietitians Australia welcoming the strategy.


Further reading

See the UK report on the Health Effects of Climate Change

See the journal


See Croakey’s archive of articles on the National Health and Climate Strategy (dating back to 2016)

Follow Croakey’s #HealthyCOP28 coverage.

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