Open letter to the Hon Tony Abbott MP

The following open letter written by 12 eminent Australian medical and health scientists to the Prime Minister urging him to include human induced climate change and its serious health consequences on the agenda for this years G20 meeting in Brisbane has been published in the Medical Journal of Australia (8/8/14), and is reproduced with permission from the MJA. The letter’s co-authours include DEA’s National Secretary, David Shearman and 6 members of DEA’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

As medical professionals we have an increasingly critical and relevant role in raising awareness of the very real and serious health consequences of climate change and environmental degradation, and the urgency of effective action.

For the media’s response to the letter click here.
Dear Prime Minister,

We urge you to include human-induced climate change and its serious health consequences on the agenda for this year’s G20 meeting. The world community looks to high-income countries for a strong lead. Current climate trends, driven by global warming, threaten the basis of future economic prosperity, regional political stability and human health.

As concern rises in many countries, including increasing awareness of the risks to human health and safety, many G20 members are strengthening their commitment to substantive mitigation action. The new United States regulations limiting coal-fired power plant emissions are explicitly linked to the protection of health. Meanwhile, if Australia passes up opportunities for new energy technologies and efficiencies, we will forfeit gains in long-term economic security and fail to contribute fairly to reducing worldwide risks to human health.

There are serious risks from climate change to the health of populations everywhere — widely documented in national and international scientific assessments. The risks include, but extend well beyond, intensified heatwaves, floods, fires and the spread of disease-bearing mosquitoes. Regional food yields and hence child and adult nutrition are at risk. Water shortages threaten the quantity and quality of drinking water, hygiene and agriculture. Warming and acidification of oceans endanger marine food sources. Infections such as gastroenteritis increase with warming, as do levels of important hazardous air pollutants. Threats to rural and coastal assets and livelihoods will adversely affect mental health.

Adverse health outcomes related to climate change are already evident in many regions of the world. By mid century, serious health risks are likely to be widespread, particularly in vulnerable communities, including in Australia. Workloads and economic and logistical demands on the nation’s health system will also rise as these impacts increase.

Near-term cost savings from health gains resulting directly from emission-reducing actions could be substantial. For example, the savings from health gains due to reduced heat extremes and accompanying air pollution would greatly exceed those accruing to agriculture from the same reduction in exposure.

In the long run, the harm to human health from climate change is more than an avoidable burden of suffering, injury, illness and premature death. It signals that our mismanagement of the world’s climate and environment is weakening the foundations of health and longevity.

This issue warrants urgent consideration at the G20 meeting. The health of present and future generations is at risk from ongoing human-induced climate change.

Anthony J McMichael, Stephen R Leeder, Bruce K Armstrong, Antony Basten, Peter C Doherty, Robert M Douglas, Adele C Green, Gustav J V Nossal, David J C Shearman, Fiona J Stanley, Graham V Vimpani and Alex D Wodak


Anthony J McMichael, AO, MB BS, PhD, FTSE, Professor Emeritus1
Stephen R Leeder, AO, MD, FRACP, PhD, Editor-in-Chief,2 and Emeritus Professor3
Bruce K Armstrong, AM, MB BS, DPhil, FRACP, FAFPHM, Emeritus Professor,3 and Senior Adviser4
Antony Basten, AO, MB BS, DPhil, FRCP, FRACP, FRCPA, Emeritus Professor5
Peter C Doherty, AC, BVSc, MVSc, PhD, Laureate Professor6
Robert M Douglas, AO, MB BS, MA, MD, FRACP, FAFPHM, FRACGP, Visiting Fellow1
Adele C Green, AC, MB BS, PhD, MSc, FAFPHM, Senior Scientist7
Gustav J V Nossal, AC, MB BS, BSc(Med), PhD, Professor Emeritus8
David J C Shearman, FRACP, Founder9
Fiona J Stanley, AC, MSc, MD, Patron,10 and Distinguished Research Professor11
Graham V Vimpani, AM, MB BS, PhD, FRACP, FAFPHM, Professor of Community Child and Family Health12
Alex D Wodak, AM, MB BS, FRACP, MRCP, FAFPHM, MRACP, Emeritus Consultant13
1 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.
2 Medical Journal of Australia, Sydney, NSW.
3 Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
4 Sax Institute, Sydney, NSW.
5 Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, Sydney, NSW.
6 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.
7 Cancer and Population Studies Group, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, QLD.
8 Department of Pathology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.
9 Doctors for the Environment Australia, Adelaide, SA.
10 Telethon Kids Institute, Perth, WA.
11 School of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA.
12 Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW.
13 Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, NSW.

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