The right to health 

A National Strategy on Climate and Health would not only deal with the threats to health from global warming, it would also be an opportunity to improve our health system.

 Addressing both the causes and impacts of climate change can bring health improvements through policies that reduce air pollution, reduce heat stress and encourage physical activity, say health experts.

In the lead-up to the federal election an open letter from “an unprecedented coalition of health, welfare and environment groups” called on all parties to recognise climate change as a core public health threat and to commit to the strategy.

While there has been policy paralysis in Australia for many years over climate change – with little planning for health at the federal level – clinicians and other health experts have used that time to craft a framework strategy that could be a strong foundation for new government policy.

The Climate and Health Alliance – which includes the NSWNMA and the ANMF – has developed 
a comprehensive plan – The National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being for Australia – for what it calls  “a health emergency”. The strategy was put together after extensive consultation with health care professionals and policy stakeholders.

“We have already seen hundreds of thousands of deaths directly linked to the impacts of climate change. We must have urgent action to protect the people of Australia from further harm,” wrote CAHA Executive Director, Fiona Armstrong, in the letter to the political parties.

Terry Slevin, the CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia said: “Climate change threatens all of the ecological and social determinants of health and wellbeing.

“We have to ensure that policies at every level of government are in place to reverse our current trajectory on climate change. Our health and the health of future generations depend on it.”   

What needs to be done

The Framework for a National Strategy on Climate and Health comprehensively covers seven areas of policy action:

  • Health-promoting and emissions-reducing policies
  • Emergency and disaster-preparedness
  • Supporting healthy and resilient communities
  • Education and capacity building
  • Leadership and governance
  • A sustainable and climate-resilient health care sector
  • Research and data.

The Nobel Laureate for Medicine, Professor Peter Doherty, says CAHA’s framework strategy gives the Australian Government an opportunity to become a world leader in health and climate change policy.

“Australia can make a contribution to the global effort of tackling global warming while reaping immediate and local benefits of its citizens in the near term,” he says.

The opportunity for a healthier nation

 The framework strategy outlines both the threats and the opportunities posed by climate change to health.

“The public health risks posed by climate change represent a health emergency, which threatens to undermine the last 50 years of gains in development and global health,” it says.

But it also points out how “many climate change mitigation and adaption policies are also win/win opportunities, which both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the social and economic burden of ill-health”.

The framework strategy emphasises that there is a “growing recognition of the links between climate change and the human right to health”.

“Australia has ratified all international human rights law instruments in which the right to health is enshrined, and is therefore obliged to ensure that its domestic and foreign policies contribute towards the realisation of the right to health,” it says.

In its letter to political parties prior to the election, CAHA was blunt in its assessment of political action to date on climate and health: “The response from successive governments to date has been woefully inadequate, and people’s health and lives are at risk.

“These risks cannot be managed through the existing health system. The Australian health sector is ill-prepared to manage the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities and the healthcare system.”

Find out more

Download the National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being for Australia at: https://www.caha.org.au/national-strategy-climate-health-wellbeing