Climate report shows more deaths from heatwaves

Climate Commission’s new report shows predicted health consequences of climate change are becoming reality.

The Climate Commission’s report; The Critical Decade 2013: Climate Change Science, Risks and Responses released today explains the harsh reality of climate change consequences for human health.

According to the report, the duration and frequency of heatwaves across Australia have been increasing and the hottest days during a heatwave have become even hotter. The report says, “heat causes more deaths than any other type of extreme weather event in Australia. Increasing intensity and frequency of extreme heat poses health risks for Australians and can put additional pressure on health services.”

Two years ago the Climate Commission warned that 2011-2020 is the critical decade for tackling climate change. In particular, this is the critical decade for turning around rising emission levels of greenhouse gases, and getting us on the pathway to stabilising the climate system. This latest report shows that our understanding of climate is increasing, but not enough is being done to avoid the consequences of climate change.

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) is concerned that Australia is yet to come to grips with the consequences of climate change on human health and our healthcare system.

DEA supports the Climate Commission’s recommendation that “most of the known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground,” as it is imperative that we act to prevent global warming of more than 2 degrees this century.

Spokesperson for DEA, Dr Dimity Williams said today, “Climate change is a serious threat to our health with the elderly, the very young, rural and indigenous communities and those with pre-existing medical conditions being particularly vulnerable.

“Climate change must be considered a public health priority,” Dr Williams said.

“A clear example of the way in which climate change can impact health is to look at heat waves. During a heatwave our body is placed under extreme stress and we can experience lethargy and heatstroke, with heart attack and even death effecting vulnerable people. During the 2009 heatwave in Victoria there were 374 excess deaths and a surge in demand for ambulance and emergency care,” said Dr Williams, a general practitioner.

The report also says, “Changes in temperature and rainfall may allow mosquito-borne illness like dengue fever to spread south.”

Dr Williams said, “Climate change will have far reaching consequences for health and will also  lead to increases in certain types of air pollutants as well as air-borne allergens like pollen. These have serious impacts on lung diseases like asthma and on heart disease.

“As a GP who has many patients with asthma I am concerned that climate change will mean an increase in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks for my patients.

“The Climate Commission’s report confirms the grounds for this concern and underlines the need for action on climate change to be considered a public health priority,” said Dr Williams.

DEA’s Western Australian representative Dr George Crisp added, “We are already seeing increasing mental health problems from the impacts of extreme weather events and changing rainfall patterns particularly in rural communities and in younger people.”

The Critical Decade 2013: Climate Change Science, Risks and Responses can be found at: http://climatecommission.gov.au/

 

Media contacts:

Dr Dimity Williams, M: 0417 580804

Dr George Crisp,  M: 0422 057351

 

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