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Queenslanders to benefit from health plan to combat climate change impacts

In the aftermath of the king tides that swept through streets and homes in the Torres Strait early last month, Queensland Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford called on governments at every level to take the need for protection of low-lying communities more seriously.

“Whether people are believers or not in climate change, sea levels are rising and governments need to do something about it,” he said.

The post below, by Sue Cooke and Fiona Armstrong from the Climate and Health Alliance, and Dr David Rissik, Project Manager at the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, relates to an important consultation that is currently occurring in Queensland.

Over the next few months these two organisations will be working together to develop a health and wellbeing climate adaptation plan for the State, as it faces an increasingly climate-affected future. They’re keen for those involved in the health sector to participate.

Here’s why, and how:


Sue Cooke
Fiona Armstrong
Dr David Rissik

Sue Cooke, Fiona Armstrong and David Rissik write:

How does a state like Queensland plan to combat the impacts of climate change on our health and wellbeing? That’s a big question, and one that is currently being asked of those whose job is to maintain and improve these attributes.

A changing climate

Queensland is a big place with big variations in climatic and geographic conditions. Nearly 5 million people call Queensland home and we’re a richly varied and culturally diverse bunch.

After a decade of extraordinary weather events (including major drought, floods, cyclones and heatwaves), there is growing recognition that our health and wellbeing are being affected by the changing climate. There has been some excellent planning for, and responses to, extreme weather events by emergency and disaster management professionals and agencies.

However further rapid changes in our once stable climate in coming years and decades will see more dramatic events – and their health consequences – ramp up. The elderly, the very young and those with compromised health are among the most vulnerable, but as experience has shown us, we are all affected.

Climate and health care

The news is not all bad however; as stated in the The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change – 2017 report, while climate change poses the greatest global health challenge of the 21st century, it also presents the greatest opportunity for improving public health!

Queenslanders, and specifically those in the health and wellbeing fields, are now being offered an opportunity to take a moment out of their everyday work, to reflect on how our systems are working and will work into our climate changed and changing future.

Services focussed on the health and wellbeing of the community (including hospitals, primary health services, public health, aged care and childcare services) are at the front line in responding to climate change.

Risks to hospitals and health and wellbeing services (and those seeking their care) include threats to physical infrastructure (buildings), disruption to power supplies, breakdown in communications systems, interruptions to supply chains (of medicines, oxygen etc), and barriers to access affecting staff and patients/clients.  Private and government health and wellbeing providers need to ensure that they have considered the risks, including legal and financial risks to their organisations and their clients, and are prepared for what the (well documented) predicted future may bring.

At present, the health system is part of the problem: recent research has revealed the health sector in Australia is responsible for a whopping 7% of national greenhouse gas emissions – so it is appropriate (and vital) that the sector responds in ways that don’t exacerbate the problem.

Opportunities for action

But what about those opportunities? The Lancet Countdown, an international multi-disciplinary initiative to track national and global action to protect people’s health from climate change recently reported that the delayed response to climate change (globally as well as in Australia) over the past 25 years has jeopardised human life and livelihoods.

However, momentum is now building and an accelerating response of the past five years portends unprecedented opportunities for public health in strategies to tackle climate change and improve population health.

To support Queensland to be better prepared for a climate affected future, the Department of the Environment and Science (DES) has commissioned the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) and the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) to develop a health and wellbeing climate adaptation plan** (H-CAP) in partnership with those providing healthcare, childcare and aged care in Queensland.

Scheduled to be completed by the end of April 2018, the H-CAP will scope out the major concerns and challenges faced by this broadly defined sector in adapting to a climate-changed Queensland.

The plan seeks to identify critical gaps in existing activity and knowledge and to help mainstream adaptation planning within the sector. The project also seeks to identify innovative responses that provide opportunities for improving health outcomes, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting economic costs.

Intersections with other Queensland sectors, particularly the vulnerable communities sector and the natural environment sector will also be considered. Within the confines of its short timeframe,  as well as the competition for key stakeholders’ attention by urgent daily demands, the project will identify priority directions for immediate and future adaptation activities as a foundation for ongoing work in the sector(s).

Contributing to H-CAP: what is the process?

Readers may be familiar with the CAHA-led national health sector consultation leading to the collaborative development of a Framework for a Climate Health and Wellbeing Strategy for Australia launched in 2017. Informed by this and by NCCARF’s body of adaptation research work, a Discussion Paper and Online Survey have been circulated, calling for health services and those providing aged care and childcare to contribute to the development of a climate change response plan for the sector.

The discussion paper outlines the many ways in which climate change is affecting the health and wellbeing of the community, including heat stress and the impacts of extreme weather. It highlights the need for services and organisations to develop plans and strategies to adapt.

Three regional workshops will be held in early March in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Cairns to build on the findings of the online survey and meetings with key informants. Further regional input is highly valued and will be facilitated by Natural Resources Management (NRM) Regional Groups Collective.

Climate change adaptation is not only a government responsibility.  It is an issue that needs to be owned by everyone. The plan will be an important driver of climate-related action in Queensland and provide a strategic way forward for the health and wellbeing community in terms of preparedness for climate change. The H-CAP is an important step towards the conversations and collaborations necessary for a climate-resilient health and wellbeing sector in Queensland.

*For more information or to be included in future H-CAP communications please contact project coordinator Dr Fahim Tonmoy  f.tonmoyATgriffith.edu.au

**The human health and wellbeing adaptation plan will be part of an interconnected mosaic of climate adaptation plans being developed under Queensland’s Climate Adaptation Strategy. Other sectoral adaptation plans include Agriculture; Built Environment and Infrastructure (completed); Tourism; Emergency Services; Industry and Resources; Small and Medium Business; and Biodiversity and Ecosystems.

Sue Cooke is the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) Project Manager, Queensland. Fiona Armstrong is Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) Founder and Director. Dr David Rissik is Adjunct Professor, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF), Griffith University (Project Manager). CAHA on twitter @healthy_climate