Health benefits of carbon price

The price on carbon won’t just lead to a healthier environment, it will also bring better health outcomes for all Australians.

Fiona Armstrong, convenor of the national coalition of health care organisations, the Climate and Health Alliance, says there will be clear benefits to our climate from the carbon price, even if they are far off in the future.

“The health benefits, however, are available much sooner than that,” she says.

“Health economists have evaluated the health benefits associated with emissions reductions in Europe, China, India and the UK, and the findings suggest improvements for health are available immediately. They can amount to billions of dollars saved annually from avoided ill health, and productivity gains.

“For example, in 2010 it was predicted that cleaner air from an emissions reduction target of 30% by 2020, in the European Union, would deliver savings worth 80 billion euros a year, due to reductions in the incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases associated with air pollution from burning fossil fuels.”

Fiona says better health is the untold “good news story” associated with the start of our national emissions reduction strategy. She says that, contrary to popular myth in Australia, emissions reductions can actually offer a win-win-win for the community. That is, there will be improvements in health and economic savings, as well as a reduction in climate risk.

European and US modelling on the health benefits of emissions reduction suggests that the savings from avoided ill health can substantially offset the costs associated with cutting emissions — and may even exceed them.

“It is clear that moving to cleaner, safer, healthier energy sources will bring significant gains for public health in Australia. This applies to the transport sector as well as mining, where the air pollution created by the use of fossil fuels is also causing considerable harm.

“A too little-known fact is that air pollution kills more people in Australia each year than the road toll. The combustion of petrol and diesel, causing harmful pollutants such as ground level ozone and carbon monoxide, as well as tiny particulates, which not only cause respiratory disease but also enter the blood stream, causing heart attacks and stroke. But where are our national campaigns for cleaner air?

Fiona says the good news is that, with this first step of setting a carbon price, Australia is moving towards a low carbon future.

“It’s not just about the climate – it’s about us and how we can protect the environment and ourselves by adopting low-carbon lifestyles, energy options and transport choices. This is an opportunity to achieve better health for ourselves, for the community, by taking advantage of our existing natural advantages of the sun and the wind, and supporting technologies and industries that are clearly in the national interest, not only in the interests of mining shareholders.”

Less carbon, better health

According to British medical journal The Lancet “policies that reduce greenhouse emissions often have more immediate and potentially large effects on population health”:

•Many measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the sectors of household energy, transport, food and agriculture, and electricity generation, have ancillary health benefits that are often substantial.•The resulting health benefits can help address existing health priorities, such as child mortality from acute respiratory infections, ischaemic heart disease in adults, and other non-communicable diseases.•Improvement of access to affordable clean energy can contribute to a reduction in the risk of dangerous climate change, while improving health, reducing poverty, and supporting development.•Specific policies that can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and result in health benefits include increased active transport (walking and cycling) and generation of electricity from renewable or other low-carbon sources rather than from fossil fuels, particularly coal.•Health professionals have an important role in the design of a low-carbon economy, motivated by evidence of the projected benefits to public health.

Five myths about the carbon price

Myth 1: The price of groceries will go up 5% under a $26 a tonne carbon tax.

Fact: Food and grocery prices will increase by 0.4% under the federal government’s carbon price. This is less than 80 cents per week for the average household, which gets $10.10 a week from the Gillard Government to help with increased costs.

Myth 2: Hospitals around Australia will pay about $100 million a year more under the carbon tax. It will come out of the pockets of patients.

Fact: Where there are increases in public hospital costs due to the carbon price, federal funding arrangements will automatically increase to help these impacts.

Myth 3: A carbon price will lead to massive increases in power prices.

Fact: The carbon price will increase household electricity prices by $3.30 a week on average, and many households will receive $10.10 a week on average under the government’s household assistance package.

Myth 4: We won’t be able to get on a bus or a train, ultimately to drive our cars, without being impacted by this tax.

Fact: There will be no carbon price on fuel used by households or light commercial vehicles. Buses using LPG, LNG, CNG or biofuels will not face a carbon price.

Myth 5: A carbon tax means death to the coal industry.

Fact: The Australian coal mining industry’s output will more than double over the period from 2010 to 2050, according to Treasury modelling. More than $96 million worth of investment in the coal industry is currently in the pipeline.