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burnt landscape

Describing the recent MJA-Lancet report on health and climate change as a “wakeup call [for]… all levels of Australian government” the group Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) has warned of major challenges to the healthcare system, including children being particularly susceptible to extreme weather and higher temperatures increasing the likelihood of illness and death in people over 65 years of age.

Calling heat “a serious health threat in Australia,” the DEA spokesperson Dr Arnagretta Hunter said the 2019 report of the MJA–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: a turbulent year with mixed progress is “an extraordinary collaboration of 35 global institutions… The health community will not be silent on the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.

“The level of concern among doctors is high, and DEA is running a petition with medical doctors calling for Parliament to declare a climate emergency. We urge the Government to heed the health voice and address the challenges posed by climate change.”

The article explored a wide range of climate-related impacts on Australia, noting the bushfires (or ‘wildfires’) already under way and saying that, “Increases in heat continue to present as a leading source of climate changerelated health risk… This trend is likely to continue and, despite uncertainties created by the large variability in daily and seasonal temperatures, there has been a striking upward trend in the rate of increase in maximum temperatures over the past two decades.”

As a direct result of this failure, we conclude that Australia remains at significant risk of declines in health due to climate change”.

The health risks caused by large increases in heatwave intensity will be felt “particularly among people experiencing underlying vulnerability and disadvantage…

Additionally, hot years, in terms of both maximum and minimum annual temperatures, continued to be associated with higher suicide rates.”

Given these identified consequences the article’s authors, from a raft of Australian universities and institutions, voiced concern at finding “little evidence to suggest Australia is acting effectively to mitigate these multiple heatrelated risks for physical and mental health.”

They concluded that while “there has been progress in renewable energy generation, including substantial employment increases in this sector… there continues to be no engagement on health and climate change in the Australian federal Parliament, and Australia performs poorly across many of the indicators in comparison to other developed countries.”

They added, “The lack of Australian national policy to address threats of climate change to health - and the consequent failure to realise the enormous opportunities that doing so would afford our nation - is disappointing to say the least…

“As a direct result of this failure, we conclude that Australia remains at significant risk of declines in health due to climate change, and that substantial and sustained national action is urgently required in order to prevent this.”