Australia

Climate change impacting health: experts

There are calls for urgent action to reduce the impact climate change will have on the health of Australians.

Australians are particularly vulnerable to the growing health impacts of climate change, experts warn.

Extreme heat caused by global warming is to have the most dangerous impact on health and urgent action is needed to mitigate the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), they say.

In a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Elizabeth Hanna from the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, and Associate Professor Lachlan McIver at Medecins Sans Frontieres have given an overview of the science of climate change and its health impacts for Australia.

They say the data shows over the past 150 years atmospheric CO2 concentrations have risen rapidly from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 410 ppm.

This 46 per cent rise in atmospheric CO2 has been accompanied by rising average temperatures, write Dr Hanna and Professor McIver.

"Human interference in the global climate is now apparent," they wrote.

Despite being a developed nation, Australia's unique climate makes it "highly vulnerable" to the impact of global warming and the experts warn of an escalation in heatwaves, droughts, fires and storms.

"Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth and has the greatest variability of rainfall of any country."

In Australia between 1844 and 2010 heat exposure claimed at least 5332 deaths.

"Heat exposure is more lethal than any other natural disaster and represents Australia's greatest current climate-related health burden," the authors wrote.

Dr Hanna and Professor McIver say the risks of more intense tropical cyclones and food and water insecurity could also lead to more cases of mosquito-borne diseases, including Ross River virus and dengue fever.

"Australia's climate is changing. Adaptation is required and, perhaps more importantly, mitigation to avoid the worst of future health burdens," Dr Hanna and Professor McIver concluded.

"A realignment of health services to address the shift in disease burden is required to secure Australia's current high level of health care," they wrote.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch