Introduction by Croakey: Some useful observations for climate and health advocates were shared at a Climate Council briefing today. While there was a palpable sense of relief about the new Federal Parliament, there was also acknowledgement of many challenges ahead.
These included the political power of the fossil fuels industry, the likelihood of more climate fights and scare campaigns, and the reluctance of the Labor Party to improve their emissions reduction commitments, despite overwhelming evidence they are not sufficient.
Advocates were urged to build public support and desire for effective climate solutions so the Government sees political opportunity, rather than risk, in lifting its climate ambitions.
Immediate opportunities for advocacy included transport, including safer vehicle emissions standards, and energy efficiency in buildings. “We are at the bottom of another mountain where we need to work together,” said Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie.
The health sector, with a long history of climate advocacy, is well placed to contribute to these goals, as paediatrician Dr Jacqueline Small, the President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, writes below.
Jacqueline Small writes:
As the President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), I am working with colleagues to lead the Healthy Climate Future campaign, which calls for action on the impacts of climate change on health and the health system.
The RACP is proud that this advocacy is in partnership with nine other Australian and Aotearoa New Zealand medical colleges, representing 100 000 doctors.
The recommendations we are making to Government are based on Climate Change and Australia’s Healthcare Systems – A Review of Literature, Policy and Practice by The Monash Sustainable Development Institute report, and supported by cases studies developed by the Climate and Health Alliance, which were commissioned by the RACP.
The launch of the report in November 2021 featured Dr Richard Smith, Chair, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change and Dr Nick Watts, Chief Sustainability Officer, NHS England and NHS Improvement.
Throughout recent months, many Australians continued to experience the lasting impacts of extreme flooding and bushfires. Despite this, we did not see enough attention during the recent Federal Election on climate change, and its impact on the health of our communities. Nonetheless, climate change was a key issue in the minds of many voters, according to widespread commentary on the election results, and a clear message has been sent by the Australian public to the new Government on the need for climate action.
I know that for many health professionals, including members of the RACP, climate change is an issue they can’t possibly ignore – they are seeing its impacts firsthand.
Rural and remote medical professionals are supporting their communities in the aftermath of horrific bushfires and devastating floods. Doctors in urban areas are seeing the impacts of extreme heat, particularly on older people. Paediatricians and obstetricians are concerned about how climate change will affect the lives of their young patients as they grow. GPs and psychiatrists are witnessing the mental health impacts of climate change and extreme weather on people of all ages. Specialist physicians across the country are expecting increased illness caused by the impacts of climate change.
With the support of nine other medical colleges, the RACP is calling for action to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change. Together, the Presidents of 10 medical colleges wrote an open letter to political leaders in the lead up to the federal election calling for a climate ready and climate friendly healthcare system. We are ready to be part of the solution.
The healthcare sector currently contributes approximately seven per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions – we need to get that down to zero. We need a plan to reduce the healthcare sector’s emissions to net zero by 2040. The experience of the UK’s Greener NHS initiative shows the significant cost savings that can be achieved by improving the sustainability of healthcare.
National strategy needed
We’re calling on the new Federal Government to work with the RACP, and other medical colleges, on a national strategy to prepare our healthcare systems for the impacts of climate change and to reduce its emissions.
We need to see a dedicated and appropriately funded national climate change and health strategy that includes:
- a plan to achieve net zero emissions in healthcare by 2040. This can be achieved in part by establishing a Climate Friendly Health System Innovation Fund to provide grants to local health services for emissions reduction and sustainability initiatives
- risk and vulnerability assessments and locally led disaster planning for the healthcare system.
- adaptation and resilience plans which acknowledge, support, and are guided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership.
- the establishment of a surge health and medical workforce for deployment in response to extreme weather events, and
- tools and resources to support health professionals to respond to climate risks.
The campaign reinforces calls for climate action from across the health sector, such as from CAHA. We are calling for a National Strategy on Climate Change and Health, investment in research and resilience, and a net-zero healthcare sector.
Over the course of the Federal Election campaign, we spoke out through the media and social media, and directly to Members of Parliament, to convey the immense pressure that climate change is having, and will continue to have, on our healthcare system. We will continue to advocate for change and educate our members on the impact of Climate Change on health.
We are calling on the new Government, and all parliamentarians, to work with us to achieve a #HealthyClimateFuture by acting on these credible and urgent recommendations.
• Dr Jacqueline Small is the President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. She has been a Member Director of the RACP Board since 2018, and has also held roles that include Chair, Fellowship Committee, Chair Appeals Committee, Chair College Journals Committee and Chair College Policy and Advocacy Committee. She qualified as a paediatrician in 1997 and for over 25 years has worked in multidisciplinary disability health teams that provides care across the lifespan for people with developmental disabilities.
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