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Australia ‘a climate change laggard’

The Federal Government needs to take “much more” action on climate change if the nation is to mitigate its most harmful effects on human health, AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler has warned.

In an address to the AMA National Conference, A/Professor Owler defended the AMA’s advocacy on climate change against critics who claimed the issue lay outside the Association’s realm of expertise.

The AMA President said that although medical practitioners did not have expertise in climate science, they were well placed to comment on the likely health effects of climate change, which included the likely spread of mosquito-borne diseases into formerly temperate areas, increased deaths from heatwaves, storms and other extreme weather, and the health impact of changes in nutrition as farming patterns are disrupted.

“Our perspective is to come at climate change from the health perspective,” he said. “The best scientific evidence is that there is going to be climate change and there will be health consequences.”

Earlier this year, the AMA helped launch and Australian Academy of Science report on the health effects of climate change, and A/Professor Owler said that, just as doctors followed the scientific evidence on the efficacy of vaccinations, so they also followed the evidence on changes to the world’s climate.

He said that, while the issue had become heavily politicised, the overwhelming weight of evidence showed that it was occurring and “the vast majority of AMA members understand the importance that we mitigate against climate change and its potential health impacts”.

“There is overwhelming support at [the AMA] National Conference for the AMA to speak out on this issue,” A/Professor Owler said. “The health effects can be quite far reaching, and what we don’t want to see is people ignoring climate change.”

The Federal Government is coming under mounting pressure to take more action on climate change ahead of the next round of United Nations talks in Paris in November.

The AMA’s call for more work to mitigate its health effects have been echoed by the World Medical Association, which late last month called for the issue to be given a higher priority at the Paris talks.

WMA President Dr Xavier Deau said he was very concerned that crucial health issues were being ignored in the build up to the Paris meeting, and that time was running out for the voice of the health community to be heard.

The call came as a leading British think tank singled out Australia as a “climate change laggard” among the world’s developed countries.

The UK-based Grantham Institute on Climate Change and Environment reported that Australia was the only developed country to “take a legislative step backwards” from action on climate change.

A/Professor Owler said the Government’s approach to climate change was going to be very important in the lead-up to the Paris summit, “but so far the Government’s response has been disappointing. We want to see more action on climate change”.

Adrian Rollins