‘We have a responsibility to do something about climate change.’

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Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet

Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet

Greg Combet, a former Secretary of the ACTU and now Minister for Climate Change talks about the federal government’s plan to reduce carbon pollution.‘The basis of our policy is the science, which is overwhelming. The science has been clear for a long time: there are significant economic and environmental risks from climate change.’

‘When you have the scientific evidence you have to act on it.’

‘We have a very energy dependent economy. We have high levels of pollution. We have the highest levels of emissions per person in the world mainly because of the high pollution levels of our energy production. Our plan will cut this pollution.’

Greg Combet says the central goal of the government’s plan is to force the worst polluters to reduce their emissions. It will have the added benefit of making these industries more competitive in the global economy.

‘This is a major, progressive Labor reform. Carbon trading starts with a three-year fixed price for carbon and then moves to an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in three years. The largest polluters will have responsibility for buying permits for carbon that they emit. There will be a fixed price of $23 at the beginning. When the ETS comes in the price will be determined by supply and demand. The market will determine prices but business will always know we are heading towards a target.’

‘We’ve designed this scheme so that by 2015 we arrive at a common international price. We have a high carbon economy. The price will be high if it is just about us. It will be less if it is linked internationally. If you link with international schemes these will provide stable prices. This will create more stability around jobs.’

‘Reform like this will drive investment and capital. It will modernise our industries. It will make us more competitive with recently modernised economies like China.’

We’re not the only ones doing it

Greg Combet says it is wrong to say Australia is the only country doing something about climate change.

‘In Europe there has been an ETS since 2005. New Zealand put in place a scheme three years ago. New Zealand is keen for us to get ours going so they can link up with us. California has just put in place an ETS as have several other American states. South Korea is just about to put in place an ETS.

‘China is investing hugely in renewable resources and replacing dirty coal fired power stations with more efficient ones. They have made a large investment in solar energy. They are starting up an ETS in five of their provinces.

‘We have a keen interest in China developing an ETS – in fact in all our main trading partners developing such schemes.’

Households and jobs will be protected

Greg Combet says an important component of the government’s package is assistance for households and protection for jobs.

‘The pricing impact on the economy will be a 0.7 per cent increase in prices. By comparison the introduction of the GST increased prices by 2.5 per cent.’

‘Tony Abbott’s claim that that there will be an “unimaginable increase” in prices is absolute rubbish. The average increase will be $9.90 per week. Labor is bringing in assistance to help. For example, the average household will receive assistance of $10.10 per week.

‘We are also increasing the tax free threshold. The tax benefit for many low wage earners is significant. Pensions and benefits will also be increased. Nine out of 10 households will get some assistance and there will be no carbon price on petrol.’

‘There is a lot of fear [mongering] by Abbott and some business groups that it will destroy jobs. It’s so ridiculous it’s disgusting. He has instilled fear and concern among working people that is totally unwarranted.’ ‘We have a huge plan to help vulnerable industries. For example in the aluminium and steel sectors they will receive 95 per cent of their carbon permits for free.’

Children bear the brunt of climate change

In the year 2000 climate change was responsible for 150,000 deaths worldwide. Of this disease burden 88 per cent fell upon children.

Research by Perry Sheffield and Philip Landrigan from the Mt Sinai School of Medicine New York, has found that children are bearing the brunt of climate related health problems.

In particular children are falling prey to vector borne diseases including malaria and dengue and increased diarrheal and respiratory diseases. They also suffer from the detrimental impact of climate change on food and human habitation according to the studies.

Emerging research on heat related health impacts also highlight diminished school performance, increased rates of pregnancy complications and renal effects. Children are more at risk because they have less effective heat adaptation than adults and are more vulnerable in utero and in early childhood.

When children contract malaria from mosquitoes (a vector which is particularly sensitive to temperature and precipitation) they have a higher complication rate and a higher mortality rate relative to older populations because of a less acquired functional immune response.

Because they breathe more air, drink more water and eat more food per unit of body weight children have greater exposure to a variety of climate sensitive impacts.

Approximately one in five deaths around the world occur in children less than five years of age. Lower respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and malaria are responsible for more than 50 per cent of childhood deaths. All three of these categories worsen with climate change.

HEALTH EXPERTS ON THE CARBON POLLUTION TAX

A price on carbon is a health measure like a tobacco tax

Dr David Shearman, Honourary Secretary of Doctors For The Environment Australia.

‘Doctors For The Environment Australia regards a price on carbon as a public health measure, for climate change is one of the great health threats of our time. It is a measure primarily to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

‘Even in Australia there is significant morbidity and mortality from the cardio-respiratory pollutions of coal mining and combustion.

‘A price on carbon is a health measure like a tobacco tax.

‘After 20 more years of prevarication we have a small but significant step to effectively reduce carbon emissions and to change our consumptive economy and lifestyle into a sustainable one.

‘The Prime Minister is on the front foot, the proposals are comprehensive and should be supported and built on.’

A welcome investment in health

Michael Moore and Helen Keleher from the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).

Action by the government to address the environmental issues will also assist in addressing the health impacts.

The PHAA understands that the impact of climate change will be even more devastating on those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.

A carbon pricing system actually begins to address this issue before the health impacts of climate change really begin to impact on poorer members of our community.

The PHAA welcomes the efforts made in the package to mitigate against the inequities that are inherent in the system of carbon trading.

Climate change will have a devastating impact on health from changing patterns of vector borne diseases and heat impact on the elderly and vulnerable, through to food and water security and death and injury from severe weather events.

We’ve got our heads in the sand

Fiona Armstrong, Convenor, Climate and Health Alliance

The carbon price package is welcome and quite possibly the best we could get in the current environment. But let’s not kid ourselves that it is bold, generous or responsive to the science.

Most people in Australia are content to bury their head in the sand, and pretend it’s not happening.

At its core climate change is a health issue. Around 300,000 people are dying each year from climate change. Around 5 million more will die in the coming decade if we fail to act effectively.

Advocating for action on climate change is possibly the biggest contribution health professionals can make to global public health.

The voice of all health professionals, as respected leaders in society, would be very welcome in keeping this trajectory on track, to denounce those who misrepresent the science, and to call for action as civil society leaders to send the clear message to the rest of the community, from people who have no vested interest, that climate change is urgent, and ultimately it’s good for health.