• Sussan Ley in Parliament. (AAP)Source: AAP
Climate change health group warns of heat stress and mental illness risks.
Myles Morgan

21 Jul 2016 - 12:36 PM  UPDATED 21 Jul 2016 - 12:47 PM

A lobby of scientists and health professionals is calling on the Federal Government to investigate the risks climate change poses to the health of Australia’s Indigenous people.

"Indigenous Australians have shown higher risks of emergency and respiratory admissions after both PM10 [air pollution] exposure and heatwaves and higher rates of mental illness associated with loss of land and culture through climate change," according to the Climate and Health Alliance.

"[With] continuing shortfalls in access to healthcare, clean water and adequate housing in remote Indigenous communities, vulnerable populations will continue to suffer disproportionately in a changing climate."


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The Alliance wrote to Health Minister Sussan Ley as it released a new discussion paper on the addressing the health impacts of climate change.

"The Discussion Paper demonstrates that none of Australia's current climate change policies address either the risks to health from climate change or the health benefits of strategies to cut emissions," the Alliance wrote to Minister Ley.


The Turnbull Government has committed to reducing emissions to 26 to 28 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030.

Australia joined over 100 countries last year in signing the Paris Climate Agreement, a global goal to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.

"We know that current Australian and international carbon reduction commitments are inadequate to limit global warming to a safe level, and people’s health is at risk," the Climate and Health Alliance wrote.

The strategy it’s proposing "will enable Australia to adequately respond to the risks to health from climate change, support the health sector to build climate resilience and transition to low carbon operations, promote education and awareness about climate change and health, strengthen climate and health research, and ensure climate policies are developed with a health ‘lens’."


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Indigenous Australians already face significant disadvantage, with a life expectancy gap of approximately 10 years compared to non-Indigenous Australians, a high number of Indigenous people living further from health services, and a higher likelihood of health problems like obesity and diabetes.

It is this vulnerability that could expose Indigenous people to greater dangers during climate change events, the Climate and Health Alliance said.

"Whereas climate threats are often localised, such as bushfires and cyclones, emerging threats, notably droughts and heatwaves are multi-state events," it said.

"The health and social downstream effects have extensive geographic spread."