Health impacts of climate change demand urgent action, Chris Bowen says

Chris Bowen, Labor's health spokesman Source: AAP

The effects of climate change must be considered a health priority to ensure policies are prepared for its impacts, Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen says.

Australia needs to take action with a “sense of urgency” to develop policies to prepare for the health impacts of climate change, according to Labor’s health spokesperson Chris Bowen.

Mr Bowen says Australia and the international world’s failure to act with “seriousness” and “haste” against rising emissions has led to the medical community warning of an impending health emergency.

He will push for the Federal Government to recognise climate change as a national health priority in a lecture at Sydney University on Wednesday night.

Labor health spokesperson Chris Bowen.
Labor health spokesperson Chris Bowen.

A copy of his speech provided to SBS News detailed his call to action.

“The world and Australia has failed to act with appropriate seriousness and haste, and so we will need specific policies to deal with the health impacts of climate change,” he says.

“As some have put it, climate change is so dangerous to health that it threatens to unwind 50 years of progress in improving public health outcomes."

Climate change was recognised as a “health emergency” by the Australian Medical Association in September saying the increasing prevalence of its impact is a “scientific reality”.

But Mr Bowen is worried that Federal Government policy is not prepared to deal with this developing threat.

He will point to estimates that 250,000 people around the world will die each year as a direct result of global warming by 2030.

“The problem is that this sense of urgency amongst our clinicians is not reflected in Government policy,” he says.

Mr Bowen will cite that the United States, while “not a leader in climate change policy,” has actively promoted climate change and health research through the Centers Disease Control Prevention.

While Britain has a “sustainable development strategy” and several European countries have identified health as a priority area of their climate strategies.

“But in Australia, we have no such equivalent,” he will say.  

“This is despite the fact we are more exposed than most, and our medical community is increasingly vocal on the issue.”

Labor's health spokesperson Chris Bowen says climate change should be recognised as a national health priority.
Labor's health spokesperson Chris Bowen says climate change should be recognised as a national health priority.

Mr Bowen will say Australia is particularly vulnerable to more prevalent heatwaves, natural disasters and the health impacts of climate change.

“Natural disasters are already occurring more regularly,” he says.

“Vector-borne diseases will become more prevalent and widespread. Heat waves, which claimed many lives in Australia will be more common and more severe.”

The Federal government has defended its response to rising emissions within the context of the global Paris climate change agreement.

It is pledging to reduce emissions to 26 per cent to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

But since 2015 emissions in the nation have been increasing year on year.

Mr Bowen believes public debate in Australia is “often missing” an understanding of the wide-ranging severe impacts of global warming.

"[This] isn’t just about the frequency and severity of weather events, it is about changing climate zones, desertification, ocean acidification, ecosystem collapse; these impacts threaten our food supply, our economy, our security and of course our health,” he will say.  

The World Health Organisation has declared climate change is the “greatest threat” to global health in the 21st century.

Mr Bowen will say making this a national health priority would help develop specific policies to deal with the problem.   

“This would raise awareness of the importance of the challenge climate change health and set out a road map for dealing with it,” he says.  

"As one senior doctor put it to me powerfully recently, 'Doctors listen to the science of the climate change and its health impacts like we listen to the science of vaccination and the impacts of not vaccinating.

“They are as clear as each other, and ignoring the science of climate change would be akin to supporting anti-vaxxers'."

With additional reporting from AAP

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