Labor’s climate change policy is a step forward but more needs to be done, say doctors

27 April 2016

Doctors welcome Labor’s policy to tackle climate change, but urge more robust action to reduce the numbers of Australians who are likely to get sick and to die as a result of rising temperatures.

Medical group Doctors for the Environment Australia says the Labor policy is a step in the right direction, and is better than anything we have on the table right now.

DEA applauds the commitment to the Renewable Energy Target of 50% by 2030, which will both reduce green house emissions and the air pollution that damages the health of thousands of Australians by facilitating the transition from coal.

It also supports the Federal Fund to assist communities in the transition from coal to clean energy. The Fund will help prevent the health hazards of unemployment, as well as provide important expertise to states which have lacked the know-how to manage the transition to a renewable economy.

However DEA laments Labor’s policies make no mention that new coalmines will not be approved.

Coal is a major contributor to climate change, whose effects we are already seeing through extreme weather events such as heat waves and devastating bushfires. Pollution from coal burning causes cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases as well as lung cancers, and contributes to the reduced life expectancy of residents in coal-producing areas.

Furthermore Labor’s policies ignore the increasing emissions from unconventional gas developments.  The methane released from these methods is a potent greenhouse gas with many times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.  Many of the toxic substances used in the mining process are unknown and studies overseas suggest there are possible health repercussions on communities near these mines.

“The health impacts of climate change are already evident, and will increasingly be felt in GP surgeries and emergency rooms across the nation,” says DEA spokesperson Dr David Shearman.

“Higher temperatures will increase emergency department attendances for heart attacks in adults, and fever, gastroenteritis, and asthma in children .”

DEA warns that even at an additional 0.85 degrees of average warming — where we are today — our health systems are being tested.  In the Queensland floods of 2011, over 17,000 tetanus/diphtheria vaccines were distributed to reduce the risk of disease and Queensland Health information line answered 54,881 calls from flood-affected areas.

“Climate change poses a real and significant threat to our health. If climate change is not controlled, it may well wipe out many of the medical advances the world has seen in the last 100 years.

“We call on our elected representatives at this crucial point of history to treat climate change with the seriousness it deserves. Gambling with our health is unconscionable.”

Media comment

DEA Honorary Secretary Dr David Shearman AM, 0488 419 070

Dr George Crisp, 0422 057 351

About DEA

DEA is an independent health advocacy organisation of medical doctors raising awareness of the link between health and the environment

We are supported by a scientific advisory committee:

Professor Stephen Boyden AM; Professor Peter Doherty AC; Professor Dave Griggs; Professor Michael Kidd AM; Professor David de Kretser AC; Professor Stephen Leeder AO; Professor Ian Lowe AO; Professor Robyn McDermott; Professor Lidia Morawska; Professor Peter Newman AO; Professor Emeritus Sir Gustav Nossal AC; Professor Hugh Possingham; Professor Lawrie Powel AC; Professor Fiona Stanley AC; Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM; Dr Norman Swan.

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