Australian Medical Association declares climate change health emergency

Image shows black smoke billowing over a waterfront home during the 2006 Pelican Waters bush fire in Queensland.

The Australian Medical Association says climate change is a health emergency which if not addressed will cause more injuries and deaths from heat stress, severe weather conditions and mosquito-borne diseases, as well as food insecurity due to declining farming production.

Similar to declarations passed by dozens of local councils – most recently the City of Adelaide – and the ACT Legislative Assembly, the doctors called for the Commonwealth to take action including by promoting an active transition away from fossil fuels.

The AMA joins other international medical bodies including the British Medical Association, American Medical Association and World Health Organisation in recognising climate change as a health emergency.

“The AMA accepts the scientific evidence on climate change and its impact on human health and human wellbeing,” President, Dr Tony Bartone, said.

“The scientific reality is that climate change affects health and wellbeing by increasing the situations in which infectious diseases can be transmitted, and through more extreme weather events, particularly heatwaves.”

The AMA called on the Commonwealth to take five steps including adopting mitigation targets within an Australian carbon budget, developing a national strategy for health and climate change, and promoting an active transition from fossil fuels.

The doctors’ body said there is a significant association between higher temperatures and more deaths in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, while the estimated annual productivity loss from heat stress is $616 per employed person in Australia.

It also observed a nearly 14 percent increase between 1950 and 2017 in the ability of the Dengue-carrying ades aegypti mosquito to transmit diseases to humans in Australia.

Dr Chris Zappala, AMA Vice President, said other examples of evidence included weather extremes including higher rain fall and flood, as well as drought and the effects of pollution.

“There is opportunity here for us to do more and, as doctors, the Australian Medical Association is just saying that we agree with that and we support any attempt to shift to, for example, renewable energy sources, to a more healthy lifestyle that doesn’t focus on a single individual in a car, for example, that acknowledges the deleterious effects of pollutions in our environment, and looks at sustainable ways of producing food and protecting water resources,” Dr Zappala told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“These sound very basic when you say them like that, but that is what’s under threat if we do nothing.”

To help counter that threat, the WHO’s current draft global strategy on health, environment and climate change says one way is by working with local government.

These include supporting “mayors and other local key actors in shaping health-supportive environments by providing tools and information on healthy choices,” the WHO’s April 2019 document said.

Separately, local councils’ efforts to tackle climate change have been recognised by the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership, a local government alliance.

“The local climate projects on display at these awards, from carbon-neutral kindergartens through to ambitious projects installing solar battery systems in thousands of homes and businesses, are tangible proof that Australian communities are rising up to meet the challenges of climate change,” David Craven, the partnership’s director, said.

Among the winners were Noosa Shire Mayor Tony Wellington (Ambassador of the Year, elected representative) and Adam Clark, a program coordinator with the City of Newcastle (Climate Champion award, council staff).

Image: 2006 Pelican Waters Bush Fire, SE QLD. Credit: Thinboyfatter/Flickr