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Climate change and health

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According to experts interviewed by ABC News, Australia is missing out on billions in short-term health savings that could come with tougher greenhouse emission targets.

Tony Capon, Professor of Planetary Health at the University of Sydney, says that air pollution can lead to premature deaths and problems such as heart attacks and asthma.

He and others point to ballpark figures suggesting the energy and transport sectors alone cost Australia at least $6 billion a year in health problems.

“They’re conservative figures and we’re not taking account of this information in our public policy,” Professor Capon said.

“We consider these costs external and we don’t look at the full ledger.”

Experts like Professor Capon argue that a move towards less- polluting forms of energy and transport would deliver much- needed savings to Australia’s budget bottom line.

Research suggests cutting emissions can pay for itself through savings on health costs, not only in China but in developed countries too.

Burning fossil fuels produces CO2, which is bad for the climate, but it also tends to produce air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and very fine particles that can play havoc with our respiratory and cardiovascular systems, even in countries with good pollution laws.

While air pollution levels in Australia may be low when compared to countries such as China, there is evidence that even low levels can be damaging to health.