The health sector must adapt to the changing climate in Australia, which is about 1.5 degrees C warmer now than 100 years ago, says a report released by the think tank, the Grattan Institute.
“This warming is harming the health and well-being of Australians right now. It will only get worse,” the report said.
Listed in the report are a number of recommendations to deal with climate change. These are:
Recommendation 1: Australia’s governments should address in long-term planning the health risks posed by climate change
The Commonwealth Department of Health must add the health risks posed by climate change to its priority list. Climate change should feature prominently in its National Preventive Health Strategy, the Long-term National Health Plan, the Corporate Plan, and the Medical Research Future Fund investment plan.
All governments should ensure the health sector incorporates climate change into risk assessments and disaster planning. This could be achieved by mandating a new requirement in the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards for health services to assess climate change risks.
Recommendation 2: Establish a national climate change and health forum
Governments should establish an explicit climate change and health subcommittee of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).
Chief Health Officers at AHPPC should prioritise climate change in their forward work plan.
Recommendation 3: Monitor climate-related health risks Australia’s health systems should:
Develop adequate systems and technologies for comprehensive data collection regarding climate change risks such as air pollution, including comprehensive coverage of air quality monitors across all jurisdictions.
Maintain real-time monitoring and forecasting of health events – e.g. hourly reporting of air quality – and health service indicators – e.g. ambulance call-outs. These data streams should be integrated and monitored, with routine reports generated for Chief Health Officers and the public.
Identify vulnerable regions or groups and deliver health system responses to those most at risk during climate-related phenomena.
Track and report data on the immediate and direct health effects of climate-related phenomena.
Build climate-change scenarios into health system planning and budget forecasting to ensure future vulnerabilities and potential effects on the health system are taken into account.
Recommendation 4: Climate-change health risks should be clearly communicated to the public
Governments at all levels should clearly communicate with Australians about the broad climate-related health risks facing Australia.
State governments should deliver targeted and tailored messages for at-risk groups about the health risks posed by expected climate-related events – e.g. imminent heatwaves – or current climate-related dangers – e.g. smoke harm from nearby hazard-reduction burns.
Recommendation 5: Improve mental health support systems
Primary Health Networks across Australia should ensure their mental health plans address the current and future increased risks from climate change that are relevant to their local community.
Mental health literacy training should be used to improve at-risk communities’ resilience to natural disasters, particularly long-lasting disasters such as droughts.
When disaster hits, governments should ensure community mental health services are equipped for the increased need for services in the short and long term.
Recommendation 6: Review health service resilience to climate disasters
Recommendation 7: The health sector should plan to reduce its emissions
The health sector should demonstrate leadership in emissions reduction.
State and territory governments should develop plans by the end of 2023 for net-zero public health sectors.