BRISBANE, AAP – Australia is yet to properly acknowledge climate change as a health crisis with limited efforts to understand what’s coming, researchers say.
Ahead of the federal election, the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences has issued a statement declaring climate change an urgent health priority.
The academy, which represents the nation’s top health and medical researchers, says the health sector faces an unprecedented practical and ethical challenge that must be met with action.
It says health must be a crucial consideration in all climate policy and equally, climate change must factor heavily in health policy.
There’s also a pressing need for more research to understand the specific ways climate change will affect the health of Australians.
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The statement comes after the federal government announced $10 million for researchers to model the impact of climate change on the health system.
Warwick Anderson, who co-chairs the academy’s climate change and health committee, welcomed the funding but said it probably wasn’t enough for what the World Health Organisation has called the greatest threat to human health.
“We need ever more specificity. We need to be able to translate these large, abstract global concepts into what is going to happen on the ground in Australia,” he said.
Professor Anderson hopes the statement will reset the political and policy debate in Australia.
A report released earlier in 2022 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stark warnings for Australia, including on health outcomes.
It warns of more frequent, deadly disasters like the Black Summer fires and the recent floods, longer and more frequent heatwaves with spikes in heat-related deaths.
Academics have long said heat-related deaths are being dramatically under-reported in Australia.
From 2006 to 2017, Australia officially recorded just 340 deaths caused by excessive heat but modelling by Australian National University academics shows there may have been 36,765 in that period.
They have called for death certificates to be modernised to reflect the impact of large-scale environmental events like heatwaves and bushfires.
“If you have an asthma attack and die during heavy smoke exposure from bushfires, the death certificate should include that information,” Dr Arnagretta Hunter said in presenting the findings in 2020.