POLITICAL inaction on climate change is putting Australian lives at risk, turning Australia from the “lucky country” to the “lagging country”, say experts in Australia’s first wide-ranging assessment of the health impacts of a changing climate.

The MJALancet Countdown on health and climate change, published online by the MJA, reported that Australia was lagging behind other high income countries in measures such as persistence of a very high carbon-intensive energy system and its slow transition to renewables and low-carbon electricity generation.

They identified a range of areas in which the health of Australians was being increasingly put at risk by a changing climate. These included longer heatwaves, lethal weather events such as storms and bushfires, as well as indirect impacts such as increases in vector-borne diseases, including dengue fever, and the nutritional consequences of drought-related spikes in fruit and vegetable prices.

Associate Professor Grant Blashki, of the Nossal Institute for Global Health and the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, said the “groundbreaking” report should alert policymakers to the fact that Australia was lagging behind comparable high income countries.

“For the first time, we can see how Australia is measuring up and tracking against a range of objective climate and health indicators,” Professor Blashki told MJA InSight.

“Australia is often considered ‘the lucky country’, as the famous quote goes, but the truth is that, when it comes to climate change, we are highly vulnerable as one of the driest continents on the planet, so this timely MJA–Lancet countdown report provides a strong cautionary message to policymakers.”

Professor Blashki said Australians highly valued their enviable healthy lifestyle but this was at risk.

“The report is a wake-up call that if we are to preserve the health of future generations of Australians, there is a great opportunity now to get on the front foot on climate mitigation and adaptation.”

The report, a partnership between The Lancet, University College London, and the MJA, builds upon The Lancet ’s inaugural 2017 Countdown. It examines 41 indicators across five categories: climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerability; adaptation, planning and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement.

The Australian assessment has also added an evaluation of the impact of climate change on mental health. The researchers found hot days had a damaging effect on mental health equivalent to unemployment, and predicted hospitalisation for self-harm.

Co-author, Associate Professor Paul Beggs said Australia had a long way to go in developing appropriate policies and response to climate change and its impact on human health.

“Australia is not in a good place,” said Professor Beggs, an environmental health scientist at Macquarie University. “If we look at things like renewable energy, electricity generation, Australia used to be ahead of countries like Germany and the United Kingdom, and now those countries are ahead of us.”

Speaking in an exclusive MJA podcast, Professor Beggs said all political parties needed to work together to develop policies and solutions that were in place for decades to come.

“We need policies that have broad support,” he said. “If we fail to respond, then people are going to become sick and people are going to die.”

The Countdown authors wrote that, given the overall poor state of progress on climate change and health, Australia had an “enormous opportunity” to take action to protect human health and lives. “Australia has the technical knowhow and intellect to do this.”

They pointed to heatwave response planning as one area in which Australia was making progress.

Responding to the report, Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King said, if elected to government next year, Labor planned to develop a climate and health strategy to tackle what the World Health Organization had described as the defining health challenge of the 21st century.

“As this new report makes clear, Australians are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of a changing climate given we live in an already hot and dry continent. And a hotter climate will mean more heat-related deaths and illnesses,” Ms King said.

She said that during the 2009 heatwave that sparked Victoria’s devastating bushfires, 374 people died of heat-related causes beyond the bushfire fatalities. The same heatwave, she said, saw a 700% spike in cardiac call-outs for the Victorian ambulance service.

“Australia’s Climate and Health Alliance predicts that heat-related deaths will double over the next 40 years. Vector-borne diseases like dengue fever will move south – to Rockhampton by the middle of the century and to northern New South Wales by its end,” Ms King said.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said that the government had a range of programs to address health issues that were susceptible to environmental pressures, including climate change.

“These programs can be scaled up or down to meet any medium to long term changes in disease prevalence related to environmental pressures,” the spokesperson said, noting that the Department of the Environment and Energy is the lead agency for the management of Australia’s climate policy.

They said Australia had a comprehensive surveillance system monitoring communicable disease trends, including those linked to climate change.

“The government has the capacity to respond effectively and appropriately to the potential impacts of climate change on health. States and territories take the lead on any direct impacts of environmental emergencies.”

The Countdown was published in the same week that a United Nations report listed Australia among several G20 nations that was not on track to reach emission reduction targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Environment Minister Melissa Price told MJA InSight in a statement that the Paris target would be met.

“The government is committed to global action on climate change and we will meet our Paris target. We have a range of policies to address climate change, particularly when it comes to renewable energy,” Ms Price said.

“The government has a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), which is supporting investment in renewable energy, and emerging technologies to support clean energy. It is the largest green bank in the world.”

Ms Price said that since investment through the CEFC began in 2013, the government had committed $5.9 billion to a diverse range of projects with a total value of $20 billion.

“The CEFC committed $2.3 billion to new investments in the Australian clean energy sector in 2017–18,” she said. “The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has also provided $1.357 billion in grant funding to 431 projects valued at nearly $5 billion.”


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Australian climate change inaction threatens lives








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30 thoughts on “Lucky country lagging as climate change risks lives

  1. Anonymous says:

    Please…. can we not agree that Australia can do almost nothing to effect any change in climate. We can shut the place down tomorrow (as some seem to want to do) and there will be no planetary gain. It doesn’t mean we should do nothing but neither should it mean that we impoverish the nation for no discernible positive outcome.

  2. Mark says:

    I agree that global warming likely is real and accept that it may be man made although, like many who comment, I am unqualified to assess the evidence critically.

    What is known, is that Australia produces a very small part of the total greenhouse gas emissions and that greenhouse gas acts globally not locally. China, India and the rest of the developing world are steadily increasing their emissions in amounts that dwarf those of Australia. This being the case all Australia will achieve by rushing into high proportions of renewable energy before the technology is ready will be to lose reliability of supply which will see what industry we have shift overseas, to countries that have less stringent environmental standards than do we so defeating the purpose. Also, this will lead to a reduction of the standard of living in Australia.

    I think that the reduction of the standard of living, and in some cases poverty, would have a far greater detrimental effect on the health of the population than the purported effect of climate change.

  3. Brian Parsonage says:

    Climate change is a complex topic and issues associated with climate change and health are no less complex. Nevertheless, the uncertainties about the future effects of climate change should not be unfamiliar to doctors who deal daily with the uncertainties of medicine. We use the best available knowledge to take action to prevent or at least minimise future adverse events. Such opportunities exist to prevent climate change.
    While economic ruin associated with the decarbonisation of our economy is sometimes raised by those sceptical about the seriousness of climate change, it is easy to argue that a lack of action will not only lead to economic retardation but will necessitate a redistribution of resources away from health to tackle the likely effects of climate change such as increased natural disasters, coastal erosion of populated areas and mass movements of people from places rendered uninhabitable by global warming. At a time when more resources would be needed to deal with the health effects of climate change there could be fewer resources available as disasters overlap exhausting people and resources devoted to helping others.
    I hope we take the opportunities available to us to make the world a better place for our patients and for our children.

  4. Dr. ARC says:

    I am fed up with the so called “experts” predicting all the dire out comes if Australia does not follow the requirements of the Paris protocols. How many people in the southern states of Australia die as a result of poverty because of high power costs, cold and inability to put food on the table assuming they have a roof over their heads!
    China & India are the main producers of carbon dioxide, both countries opening new coal powered generators on a regular basis. If you really want to make a difference to the CO2 load, go nuclear. It’s time Australian politicians pulled their heads out of their backsides and given our yellow cake and uranium deposits we can have cheap base load generation in a matter of a few years. Given that Germany & France produce almost 50% of their electricity from nuclear sources, why can’t Australia do the same.
    Finally, when are doctors going to accept historical records and realise that more people die from cold than from heat?

  5. Malcolm says:

    In 2009 an MJA article pointed out that there is no threat from Dengue fever:
    https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2009/190/5/dengue-and-climate-change-australia-predictions-future-should-incorporate. Professor Reiter has said the same about malaria.
    If you read chapter 11 of the 2008 Garnaut report , this listed all the likely threats from an increase in CO2 from 0.03 to 0.05% of the atmosphere. Everything from infectious diseases through to reduced demand for minerals exports. Ten years later, not one has come true.
    This is politics, not science.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I can’t believe some of the comments. Every person and every country has a responsibility to reduce carbon Emissions. People talking about being impoverished by taking actions to reduce carbon emissions is unbelievable given the planet is heading towards becoming uninhabitable.

  7. Paul Jenkinson says:

    Climate Warming theory(or religion) is fundamentally a global wealth redistribution exercise to enrich poorer nations at the expense of richer ones.
    Australia can merely assist or not,if it is wealthy enough,after citizens are told the truth.
    So far that has not been the case.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Extraordinary xenophobic claptrap being spouted here by (presumably) doctors who should know better. “Oh it’s not our fault, we’re not the big polluters, why should we do anything about it, boo hoo boo hoo.” Pathetic. Man up, own the science, and let’s get on with it eh? Let’s be good global citizens, if not for the example it sets to other countries, then to at least know, when the world goes to crap, that we’ve tried our best. And seriously, the person who whined about “more deaths from cold than heat” — do you not get the basic concept that climate change is about the extremes of temperatures? The extremes of weather events? It’s not about hot OR cold, it’s about hotter AND colder. For crying out loud, GROW UP.

  9. Peter Dixon says:

    C limate change occurs all the time
    The dire predictions are political tools manifest by those who have no desire to reead the truth as it goes against their biassed blinkered vision
    Thjt’s right the greenies who could not run an ything of substance

  10. Dr Rosemary Stanton says:

    When I see comments by people who don’t even use their real names, I am very tempted to think they are trolls, especially when their comments deny the massive amount of scientific evidence that has been communicated over the last 20-30 years.

    I also wonder at the ignorance displayed by those who are unable to see that renewable energy is entirely feasible in this land of much sunshine and many windy places.

    And then I wonder at people who do not care about what we are leaving to future generations. Indeed, these same people come across as selfish as well as ignorant.

    Personally, my partner and I have lived a normal life with our home and two offices running entirely on renewables for the last 25 years. We aren’t connected to the grid. Of course, not everyone can live off-grid, but large scale renewables plus batteries can easily supply grid power for many more than is currently happening.

    As this site is largely read by doctors, I find it hard to accept that they don’t understand the well-established health implications coalmines have on many thousands of people.

    I’d suggest those who still need convincing of the facts of climate change and its health implications check facts with Doctors for the Environment Australia – a group of largely medical doctors (and a few PhDs). Their informative website is at https://www.dea.org.au/

  11. wally says:

    Is climate change a Hoax? If it is a proven fact why there is no agreement on this subject by climate scientists? Biggest polluters of the world like India & China are increasing there coal powered power generation while we are shutting down at the expense of increasing power bills to many thousands of Australians who could ill afford it. We are exporting our coal and uranium while politicians, mainly greenies , are preaching the merits of wind and solar while failing to recognise unreliability of these sources when wind does not blow or sun does not shine ! If coal is so bad why don’t they come out and protest on export of coal and uranium.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Associate Professor Blaskini (Hon Professor at Luohou Hospital Group in Shenzen Peoples Republic Of China) is qualified GP.
    Doctors should remain in areas where we are experts,that is treating patients.
    With a federal election 6-9 months away are going to be bombarded by green theology which hopes to get as many medical doctors on side as possible.
    Very few medical graduates are true experts in the area of climate variability and I doubt if Dr Blaskini can explain the mechanisms for the enormous variations on ocean height over the last 100,000 years.
    .

  13. John Graham says:

    Look at the graphs of climate over the past 10,000 years and you will see much hotter temperatures about 2000 years ago and before. Temperature changes precede carbon dioxide rises. We are just as much in danger of a mini ice age than warming. If you believe in global warming than Australia should go nuclear, phase down all coal exports and replace it with uranium exports. Mean while we should all get off our butts and develop industries such as robotics which will help our economy so we do not depend on digging up our natural resources all the time. Solar , wind etc need to be developed gradually as they do not at this stage provide a viable alternative. We doctors are in the service industry which does not strongly add to our GDP , however we should be vocal about health issues like supporting the pensioners who cannot afford to heat their homes in winter and suffer cold and illness as a result. Why are we not shouting from the roof tops this real problem happening now.Even the health funds are considering paying their electricity bills rather than their hospital bills.

  14. Roger Graham says:

    If we want to reduce carbon dioxide output we should be using nuclear energy. Stop the mindless debate until then.

  15. Randal Williams says:

    Unfortunately climate science is now political science and part of identity politics. Hence it is now almost impossible for a lay person to trust the objectivity of statements made by either side of the argument. One thing that seems certain is that Australia’s contribution to climate change/global warming is miniscule, and that if the huge economies of China, India and USA don’t reduce emissions then anything we do is useless.

  16. Marcus Aylward says:

    China, India and the US are amongst the biggest emitters.
    So that the authors (and their acolytes) can walk their talk, I expect that they will publicly boycott the purchase for themselves of any goods from such countries, until they those countries have moved to fully renewable energy sources.

  17. Frank New says:

    I would like to know the ‘experts” prediction of outcome if Australia produced no more CO2 emissions.
    I would also like to know their recommendations re Population Growth and Consumption Growth.
    I would also like to know why there is so little comment on these rampant issues to date.

  18. David King says:

    Hello expert Dr Frank New, its “expert” Dr. David King. (Why the need to denigrate people with views different to ones’ own – why not just ask the question without insertion of put-downs?).
    I think we both know the answer to your first question – Australia produces a little over 1 percent of global CO2 and other greenhouse gases. So if we stopped all emissions, there would be 1% less climate forcing. But maybe…. if Australia led and didn’t collapse in a heap, then other countries might also try harder, and we might stop warming at 2-3 degrees of warming rather than 3-4 degrees of warming……
    Many concerned scientist have acknowledged that we need to control both population growth and consumption. It was due to population growth in Australia than allowed ScoMo to crow recently that Australia’s per capita emissions had fallen (but forgot to say that our total emissions rose for the 4th year in a row).

    You ask a good question as to why not more is heard about population and consumption. They are certainly both ‘elephants in the room’. Also mention of population can be easily misunderstood as xenophobia or eugenically motivated. We already consume more of the renewable capital of the natural world that can be replace annually. WWF has been talking about this for decades. Unfortunately, talking about ‘limits to growth’ is even more politically unpalatable to the average economist or even home owner, despite economist Kenneth Boulding, cofounder of the General systems theory, 1973 quote “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

  19. David King says:

    Randal Williams, I agree that the response to climate science has been politicised, especially in Australia and the USA. However, every major national scientific body around the world has endorsed the quality of the evidence and the need to act. Their analyses are not politically motivated or biased. The conservative government in the UK has looked at the evidence and decided that mitigation is preferable to delayed risk management, so it is not always a tribal issue. In fact, both Labor and LNP pollies here in Australia get donations from the fossil fuel industries, and often jobs there once they leave politics, so again more about their own jobs that looking at the science.

    I suggest that if you really wanted to understand current scientific thought on climate change without political bias, a quick look at NASA or NOAA or Australian Academy of Science etc would provide balance for you, that you won’t find in the mainstream media.

  20. Anonymous says:

    It is time that we as scientists start using the correct terminology when it comes to climate. Climate change occurs with temperature increases and decreases probably since the world began and is a feature of external influences mainly dominated by solar flare activity to mention one. The reals issue is wether anthropomorphic climate change is a reality and a great deal of doubt exists. Fear mongering by politicians and people with vested financial interests in renewable energy has reached plague proportions and has become a beacon for the morally righteous virtue signallers.
    Time to return to true science

  21. Dr VL Reid says:

    For those of you who would like to be accurately informed about the economics of coal fired power generation I suggest you read/listen to Renew Economy . This is written, edited and contributed to by some of our best informed economists and points out that in fact, from and economic view point, Australia will be disadvantaged in so many ways by not recognising that switching to renewable energy production is the right economic choice.

    Dr Stanton – I would love to hear your comments on current dietary advice which still recommends substantial meat and dairy consumption , the production of which far outweighs coal as a polluter.

  22. Professor Tim Florin says:

    The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change is a viewpoint by persons who are committed to a cause and want to persuade colleagues.
    I cannot get past its first 6 key recommendations.

    1, 2 invest in climate change .. public health research…scale up financing for climate-resilient health systems. That climate changes is undeniable and self-evident but the empirical evidence to support that climate is changing ‘more’ remains completely unconvincing. The non-empirical (IPCC) models have failed to predict the immediate future or the near-distant past. They do not include factors such as cloud cover which reduces the solar irradiation.

    3, 6 phase out coal-fired power.. rapidly expand access to renewable energy, unlocking the substantial economic gains. Many renewable energy projects underestimate how far we are from substantial economic gains. The costs of energy transmission of energy-dilute renewables and the energy storage required because they are intermittent, outweigh many benefits when used to generate base-load power in our cities. Research into renewable energy sources, which should be encouraged, must be cognisant of the physics.

    4.encourage city-level low-carbon transition to reduce urban pollution, and 5 establish the framework for a strong and predictable carbon pricing mechanism
    I support the underlying premise that the negative impacts of our activities be costed, but the sole focus on carbon is narrow and unhelpful. There is no mention of nuclear for baseload energy. Major efforts should address more energy-efficient activities as well as less controversial environmental problems such as the failure to dispose properly and locally our waste. Prosecuting a case for major climate-public health funding is a stretch too far.

  23. Ben says:

    The AI bots are programmed to notice “climate change” in a heading, and to troll any constructive comments. Apparently 20% of all social media traffic is created by non human respondents. Luckily they cant vote.
    Lets power Australia with a massive hydrogen fusion device, but place it safely 100 million Km away so we can enjoy the energy without the waste products.

  24. Michael Schien says:

    As a profession we should be bypassing politics and vested economic interests, and sticking with best scientific evidence. And the evidence could not be clearer when it comes to climate and environment. How is it possible to ignore satellite and meteorological data, record heatwaves, longer fire seasons , mass coral die off, and species extinction ? How can we turn our backs on our children, who gathered in the streets last week in an unprecedented show of concern and hope, that adults might finally do something about these issues ? Sure it might have been hotter or colder in the past, but we are talking about very rapid shifts happening right now.
    Even industry leaders are calling for policies recognising the need to reduce GHG emissions, and accelerate the shift to renewables. Massive economic and employment opportunities exist in this sector. While it is encouraging that 50% of doctors in this survey agree we need to do something, it is worrying that 40% remain unconvinced !

  25. Anonymous says:

    It would not make a damn of difference if we beggared the nation and surpassed all the climate change landmarks the risks to Australia wouldn’t change a jot. Everyone knows that. What happened to clear thinking?

  26. martin Bailey says:

    “If we beggared the nation” is a common comment- do these people not get that renewable energy employs more than twice as many workers as fossil fuels, and are cheaper, and getting cheaper still. Enrich the nation by going renewable! Be leaders in the new technologies and profit from it. Where is the good Ozzie ingenuity and enterprise!

  27. Marcus Aylward says:

    There are multiple levels on which the global warming debate separates people, but broadly speaking there are 2 distinct issues, which are unfortunately being conflated into a single response:
    1. is climate change occurring and are man-made emissions contributing?
    2. what should be the response to #1 if yes?
    Even if one fully accepts that the answer to #1 is yes, it is not automatic that the political response should be to “decarbonise the economy”.
    All the credible modelling shows that even if the entire world ceased use of fossil fuels tomorrow, we could likely not limit the temperature rise to less than 2 degrees. And the fact is, the entire world has no interest in doing any such thing. That a clutch of locals install solar panels and a few drive e-vehicles (separate discussion) is of no interest to countries like India and China, which are focussed on growth and continuing to lift their populations out of poverty by providing jobs, power and even fresh water, and plan to use more coal, not less. We who have enjoyed those benefits in previous centuries actually have no right to tell them to abandon those projects.
    That being the case, for us to beggar our nation (yes, switching fully to intermittent power sources will beggar the economy) – for no global gain represents nothing more than virtue-signalling for those of us who can afford it, and a return towards poverty for all those who are not wealthy enough to be shielded from the artificially distorted costs of rising power bills.
    Wanting to be seen to be “doing something about climate change” is not the same as a sensible policy response. By all means, invest heavily in clean-energy research and development, to make it more available and cheaper, but it is not ready for a central role yet.
    Face up to reality:
    If we really are causing it, you can’t stop it.
    If we aren’t causing it, you can’t stop it.
    Adapt.

  28. George Crisp says:

    Marcus the information you are using is incorrect.

    IPCC has just this week restated that temperatures can be limited to less than 1.5C with rapid decarbonisation (although it would require unprecedented action) . The summary for policy makers details this:
    http://sdg.iisd.org/news/ipcc-special-report-limiting-global-warming-to-1-5c-will-require-unprecedented-transitions/

    The world has agreed to do “such a thing”. ie limit warming to 2C – that was the Paris agreement -(although the means to achieve this are yet to be decided). We are a signatory.

    Coal use has risen in developing countries, but so has renewable energy. This is a problem regarding emissions, but it is also the case that these developing nations are a) more vulnerable to climate change related impacts and b) are experiencing significant health problems relating to ambient air pollution from burning coal.

    As a developed nation our role is to a) set an example, b) assist developing nations with low emissions technologies etc.

    As for “beggaring” ourselves. this is wrong. Renewable energy with storage is now cost competetive than coal and gas and saves money through health benefits from decreased air pollution related health impacts. Plus it creates far more employment than either coal or gas. A win-win.

    reality is:
    It is due to us. We can stop it.
    Beyond 2C will likely result in unmanageable impacts, especially health impacts. You want to take that risk?

    (The answer to Q1 is – warming is unequivocally occurring, increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere increase radiative forcing and are the primary driver, and the increase in GHGs is due to human activities.)

  29. Brian Sullivan says:

    We all seem to be obsessed with the world warming or cooling. It’s the territory of zealots from both camps. In the meantime China and India couldn’t care less. The future has to be nuclear, whether we like it or not. But not for Australia, we’re even converting our new submarines from nuclear power to diesel. Such is the power of the Greenies and the weakness of Government – both sides!

  30. Paul Jenkinson says:

    We have 22 coal fired power plants.
    China has over 2000 and building another 130 or so to accelerate lifting their poor out of poverty.
    India is increasing its fossil fuel use to get their millions the sanitation and relief from chronic infectious illnesses eg TB their population deserves NOW.
    Here in Australia we are supplying the fossil fuel needs of these countries because otherwise we have no other industry to support our economy.
    At the same time,we are virtue signalling how “responsible” we are by knocking down a coal station or two,wrecking our economy and making our poor poorer.
    It is absolute madness!

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