A group of 30 health leaders have called on the Australian government to rethink its strategy on climate change, recognising the potential threat to human health and the need for a united and co-ordinated response.
The leaders, who represented the member organisations of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), met with more than 30 federal MPs and senators on March 16.
The Senate agreed to a motion calling for a national strategy on climate change, health and well-being, after a number of health experts, including two former chief health officers, called on the government to listen as they did with the COVID pandemic.
Dr Angela Frimberger, a Lake Innes-based veterinary oncologist, represented Veterinarians for Climate Action at the discussion.
Dr Frimberger said health leaders understand the true meaning of the word "emergency".
"Major medical journals and the WHO have described climate change as the most important public health threat of this century - indeed, unmitigated climate change would dwarf the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," Dr Frimberger said.
"Against this background, leaders are pointing out that phasing out fossil fuels would yield massive economic savings on health care costs, as well as improved well-being associated with health benefits.
"The concept of One Health teaches us that the health of humans, animals, and the environment are inextricably linked in a very real, chemical biological way.
"Many people value the natural environment for its inherent value; and in addition there's much evidence of the mental health benefits of being in nature and the mental heath impacts of environmental degradation. But even people who aren't nature lovers are still completely dependent on a functioning biosphere in a very practical way."
The Climate and Health Alliance has developed a framework for a national strategy, which makes 10 key policy recommendations across eight focus areas. Importantly, the leaders recommended stronger emissions reduction targets in the short, medium and long term consistent with limiting warming to 1.5oC.
Dr Kate Charlesworth, a Sydney-based public health physician, said there is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is harmful to human health.
"If doctors failed to act on this level of evidence in their medical practice, they would be considered negligent," Dr Charlesworth said.
"On the other hand, stronger climate action is a win-win for health and the environment. It would mean cleaner air, healthier diets, greener and cooler cities and more connected communities.
"Protecting health is our job and it's time to get on with it."
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