Tackling climate biggest ‘global health opportunity in 100 years’
The effects of climate change are already being felt and it presents a “potentially catastrophic” threat to human health unless urgent action is taken to rein in carbon dioxide emissions, according to a report by the respected Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change.
In findings that reinforce AMA warnings about the need for governments to prepare for the inevitable health effects of climate change and extreme weather events, the Lancet Commission said that the world was at risk of undoing half a century of gains in global health and development.
The Commission’s report, Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health, warned that unless there was a change of course, the world was on track to exceed 2900 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions within the next 15 to 30 years, forcing global average temperatures up by between 2.6 and 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
But the Commission said that, rather than being viewed as a burden, addressing climate change should be seen as “the greatest global health opportunity of this century”.
“Many mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change are ‘no regret’ options which lead to direct reductions in the burden of ill health, enhance community resilience, alleviate poverty, and address global inequity,” the report said.
AMA President Professor Brian Owler said the Lancet report, prepared by a collaboration of European and Chinese climate scientists, geographers, social and environmental scientists, engineers, health professionals, energy policy experts and political scientists, provided further evidence on the need for global action to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change on human health.
“It is the AMA’s view that climate change is a significant worldwide threat to human health that requires urgent action, and we recognise that human activity has contributed to climate change,” Professor Owler said. “There is considerable evidence to encourage governments around the world to plan for the major impacts of climate change, which include extreme weather events, the spread of diseases, disrupted supplies of food and water, and threats to livelihoods and security.”
Earlier this year, Professor Owler helped launch an Australian Academy of Science report, Climate change challenges to health: Risks and opportunities, that detailed the likely health effects of climate change, including increasingly deadly heatwaves, the spread of food and water borne illnesses and diseases like malaria, and the death and damage caused by more frequent and extreme storms, droughts and floods.
Governments around the world are preparing to attend the United Nations’ Paris Climate Change Conference in November, and the AMA President said there was an urgent need for action.
“The evidence is clear – we cannot sit back and do nothing,” Professor Owler said. “Governments must prepare for the inevitable health and social effects of climate change and extreme weather events.”
The Lancet Commission has called for the framework for an international carbon pricing mechanism to be established in the next five years, along with a rapid expansion in the use of renewables and the speedy phase out of coal-fired power.
In a rallying call for the medical community, the Commission said that until now health effects had been largely ignored in the international debate over climate change, but doctors needed to help lead a change in focus that would bring the consequences of rising global temperatures into sharp relief.
“Health professionals have worked to protect against health threats such as tobacco, HIV/AIDS and polio, and have often confronted powerful entrenched interests in doing so,” it said. “Likewise, they must be leaders in responding to the health threat of climate change. A public health perspective has the potential to unite all actors behind a common cause – the health and wellbeing of our families, communities and countries.”
Professor Owler said the Abbott Government should use the Lancet Commission report and the Australian Academy of Science study as key references in the development of the action plan it takes to the Paris Climate Change Conference.