To save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars, Australia should rapidly phase out coal power stations and establish strong emissions reduction targets, according to a coalition of 30 major health and medical groups.
Fiona Armstrong, the executive director of the Climate and Health Alliance, said the framework provides a comprehensive roadmap for achieving Australia’s obligation under the Paris Agreement to recognise its citizens’ “right to health”.
Peter Doherty, Nobel laureate for medicine and campaign ambassador for Our Climate Health said: “We are currently conducting a planetary-scale experiment with uncontrolled dumping of CO2 at a rate that is truly frightening. No university ethics committee would ever sanction such a study for mice, let alone humans. We have to stop.”
He told Guardian Australia he thought awareness of the health impacts of climate change needed to be embedded into all other policy areas – from building design to transport infrastructure and health funding.
There were already many health-related costs of climate change being seen in Australia, the framework document points out. For example, heatwaves in 2009 and 2014 contributed to hundreds of deaths in Victoria and projections suggest the figure will rise to several thousand additional deaths from heatwaves by 2050.
It also points out that in Australia the use of coal is contributing to 4,000 deaths each year, mostly by exacerbating existing chronic cardiac and respiratory illnesses.
There is also already an economic burden, with extreme heat costing the Australian economy $8bn each year through reduced productivity, and the health effects of bushfires often costing billions.
The policy framework has seven key areas, and more than 50 recommendations, which require a coordinated national approach, involving the commonwealth government. Among those recommendations are 26 relating to emissions-reduction policies that would also improve the health of the community. Among those, the coalition calls for a “rapid” transition away from coal power and fossil fuels “with appropriate support for affected workers and communities to ensure a just transition.” It also calls for the removal of subsidies for fossil fuels and for investment in zero-emissions transport infrastructure such as trains and bicycle paths.
Other policy areas the framework deals with include emergency and disaster-preparedness, building a climate-resilient healthcare sector and research and data.
Efforts in other countries to address climate and health surpassed that made in Australia, the framework document notes.
In the US, the Centre for Disease Control outlines 11 different policy actions for climate change and promotes research into climate change and health, as well s preparedness.
The EU has guidance for member states on protecting their communities from the impacts of climate change and the UK has mitigation and adaptation policies for the health sector.
Nick Watts, executive director at Lancet Countdown, a major international project that aims to measure and track countries’ progress on climate and health, said if adopted, the framework would make Australia a leader in the area. “The implementation of a national strategy on climate change and health could put Australia in a leadership position globally and go a long way to ensuring the protection of community health and well-being while reducing carbon emissions.”