Doctors for the Environment Australia declares climate change a health emergency   

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) declared climate change a health emergency on 3 May 2019. 

DEA is a medical organisation comprising doctors and medical students in all states and territories and supported by a strong scientific committee of distinguished health experts and academics. 

In making the health emergency declaration, DEA recognises that: 

  •  climate change constitutes a public health crisis that requires urgent action from all levels of government and society as a whole; 
  • each day of climate change inaction brings with it more frequent unpredictable and severe extreme weather events, an increase in infectious diseases, allergic and respiratory diseases and the risk of global food shortages, starvation and territorial conflicts. Each day also brings us closer to catastrophic climate change where temperatures will continue to rise, and adaptation will become increasingly unlikely for many communities; 
  • children and future generations stand most to lose if we do not prevent the looming climate crisis. They have contributed least to global warming and yet the climate crisis will affect them disproportionally as they are more vulnerable to the impacts now and as they live through this century; 
  •  acting on climate change now can result in many health co-benefits through improved air quality, food security and mental and physical health; 
  • to reach net-zero carbon emissions we need to mitigate emissions as quickly as possible and draw down excess carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere to achieve a stable and healthy climate. 

DEA now joins over 70 major health and medical organisations in the USA which have recently declared a climate health emergency, including the American Medical Association, American Heart Association and the American Academy of Paediatricians. This is in addition to the health emergency declaration already made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Lancet Commission. 

As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has proclaimed: “If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous (health) consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us”. 

DEA calls for a rapid and whole-of-government response to the climate crisis 

In line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report and current peer reviewed data by scientific experts in the climate science fields, DEA calls on governments at all levels to undertake an urgent re-evaluation of priorities, ending destructive, self-harming practices and pursuing actions that promote health and wellbeing for all members of our society, now and into the future. 

Doctors have a duty to protect human health and to prevent and alleviate suffering. We cannot be silent and watch governments continue to dismiss the significant and alarming health threat posed by climate change and unhealthy environments. We are familiar with dealing with emergencies and know that disaster can be averted when emergencies are recognised early, and when the response is adequate and prompt. 

 Action on climate change now is needed to avert the biggest health threat of our time and improve and help protect the health and wellbeing of Australians and millions of people around the world.

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