OpenForum: Why Tony Abbott is wrong about the Paris climate accord

It is concerning when a leading voice in Australian politics says that as a country, we need to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The likes of Mr Abbott fall into the category of deniers who choose not to believe that climate change is a terrifying reality. Read this prescription for Mr Abbott  from Queensland General Practitioner and DEA State Secretary Lucy-Jane Watt.

It is concerning when a leading voice in Australian politics, such as that of a former prime minister, stands up and says that as a country, we need to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement to which Australia is a party.

Addressing an audience of climate sceptics recently, Tony Abbott stated that had he known America would withdraw, he would never have signed us up.

Mr Abbott and his fellow deniers would rather turn a blind eye, and continue to dig up and burn dirty coal, which is a major contributor to a warming planet.  They believe this will solve immediate economic concerns that are based on the false premise that coal equals low electricity prices .It might also win votes at the next federal election.

Yet ripping up the Paris accord—the only international agreement that we have to address climate change—would in effect rip up our chances for a stable and liveable world.

The link between climate change and health is indisputable. Increased temperatures mean heatwaves, which can be lethal to the very young, the very old and the infirm.  Bush fires will threaten us more regularly and more ferociously. Floods likewise will be more frequent and more damaging. Vector borne disease such as dengue and malaria will occur in ever-widening areas. Ocean inundation will destroy coastal settlements. Food insecurity will threaten all of us, and massive migrations due to famine, flood and drought will be inevitable.

The less obvious associations between climate change and health also need to be emphasised. As an example, if we continue to burn coal, air pollution will be an ongoing and significant factor leading to ill health and death. The Lancet’s current Planetary Health journal highlights how significantly air pollution contributes to childhood mortality from respiratory tract illnesses.  Thunderstorm Asthma might be a regular horrific reality for us to face.

Another less obvious but real association between health and climate change is the effect of mining on our environment.  If we agree to meet the demands of Adani for example, and allow the Carmichael Coal Project to go ahead, the effect on regional water systems, local agriculture, local ecosystems (think wetlands and vulnerable animal species) not to mention dire impacts on the already vulnerable Great Barrier Reef struggling against the impacts of toxic runoff into its catchment zones will be massive and intolerable.

Mental health and wellbeing will not escape the effects of climate change. Our farmers struggle more and more against drought and poor soils, not to mention the damaging effects that coal seam gas operations have had on their lands and water. Economic pressure, stress, anxiety and suicide are realities for them.

Air quality in regions where coal is mined, processed and transported is dangerously poor. Air quality in regions where coal fired power plants are situated is very poor. The litany of health effects both direct and indirect goes on and on.

All signatories to the Paris Agreement acknowledge that climate change is a common concern for all mankind, and that amongst other things, every human has the right to good health.

All signatories note the importance of protecting ecosystems and biodiversity, (“Mother Nature”) and that creating sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production is the leading way in which developed countries can commit to combatting climate change.

All signatories recognise that this is a global challenge which seeks to protect both people and ecosystems, and that for vulnerable parties, the call is urgent and needs immediate attention.

From the Paris Agreement: “Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible…and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”.

The likes of Mr Abbott fall into the category of deniers who choose not to believe that climate change is a terrifying reality—for some people the challenges often seem too great, and the threats too awful to contemplate.

As a country, and as a leader in our region, we have to stand up and commit ourselves to the realities of climate change, and accept the daunting but achievable task of climate mitigation.

The Paris Agreement encapsulates these two agendas perfectly.  We have the skills, knowledge, technology and capability. We just need better leadership.

First published on OpenForum on 12 July 2018

Lucy-Jane Watt is a career medical officer in emergency medicine and Hon secretary off the Queensland Doctors for the Environment Australia state committee. She is studying for a Masters In Public Health.

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