DEA submission: Australia’s emissions targets fail to protect health

24 April 2015

Doctors blast the Abbott government’s failure to put health first in its emissions targets- despite health being the biggest threat we face this century 

Health experts say the Abbott government’s Issues Paper, Setting Australia’s post-2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions, has failed to consider the health implications for the Australian community.

The government is currently deciding on Australia’s emissions reduction target beyond 2020 ahead of the meeting in Paris later this year to tackle climate change and has invited public comment, which closes today.

Doctors for the Environment Australia, a national health advocacy group of medical doctors, said in its submission that climate change is the biggest health threat we face this century.

DEA highlighted:

·    Immediate risks to life from severe storm surges, record heat and more severe and frequent bush fires, some of which we have seen very recently.

·      Longer term adverse outcomes, including a reduction of food supplies from changing rainfall patterns; an increase in tropical infectious disease; rising sea levels; disputes over changing land usage; and the mental and social disruption from population displacement.

DEA said that many of these effects will occur even when limiting warming to 2°C, and that if warming cannot be limited, the costs to health and the economy are incalculable.

DEA added the economic argument loses credibility when the huge health costs of burning coal are taken into account. These amount to $2.6 billion per annum which is equivalent to an extra $13 AUD per megawatt hour.

study from US revealed that the true cost of coal was up to 5.6 times the nominal cost, while a recent Harvard study calculated that externalities from Hazelwood alone amounted to $900AUD million per year

DEA said that Australia’s “special circumstances”, described in the Issues Paper are a reason for more action, not less. If coal accounts for nearly 60% of our primary energy supply, then this is because successive governments have failed to move to non-coal sources when the opportunity has existed for the last two decades.

DEA also said the Issues Paper was “an embarrassment that will harm the integrity and standing of Australia” internationally. It makes claims that cannot be substantiated and fails to set the scene for the adoption of emission targets commensurate with the needs of humanity.

Australia’s post-2020 target

DEA pointed out several key Australian institutions and organisations have recently advised of the targets necessary to maintain the possibility of keeping within a 2°C temperature rise.

The Climate Change Authority now recommends a 30% cut from 2000 levels by 2025 in addition to their advice in early 2014 that Australia would need to cut emissions by between 40% to 60% by 2030. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which assesses the scientific information on global warming, recommended emission reductions of 25-40% of 1990 levels by 2020 and 80-90% by 2050. It’s likely that their latest recommendation will be for a reduction of 50% of 2010 levels by 2030.

DEA is urging leadership from all political parties as Australia is technologically and financially able to attain targets of this order, and that doing so is a health imperative. Climate change is already causing ill health and death in many parts of the world and these consequences will increase.

DEA supports on health grounds the need for:

40% reduction of 2000 levels by 2025, 50% by 2035 and 95% reduction by 2050.


Dr John Iser: 0428 599 025

John Iser is DEA’s Victorian Chair

Dr Tim Senior, 0439 688 754

Tim Senior is a doctor in an Aboriginal Medical Service in South West Sydney and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

About DEA

We are an independent health advocacy organisation of medical doctors addressing the health impacts of environmental damage

DEA is supported by a scientific committee consisting of:

Sir Gustav Nossal, Professor Peter Doherty, Professor Fiona Stanley, Rosemary Stanton, Professor Stephen Boyden, Professor Bob Douglas, Professor Michael Kidd, Professor David de Kretser, Professor Steve Leeder, Professor Ian Lowe, Professor Robyn McDermott, Professor Peter Newman, Professor Hugh Possingham, Professor Lawrie Powell, Norman Swan, Professor David Yencken.


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