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25 May 2015

Climate change is a significant worldwide threat to human health that requires urgent action. There is overwhelming evidence that the global climate is warming and human factors have contributed to the warming. It is happening gradually, but there is no doubt that it is warming. The AMA supports that evidence.

As the world continues to warm, there will be significant and sometimes devastating impacts of climate change — particularly for human health.

Last month, along with the President of the highly respected Australian Academy of Science, Professor Andrew Holmes, I launched the Academy's much-anticipated report —Climate change challenges to health: Risks and opportunities .

The report brings together the latest comprehensive scientific evidence and knowledge on the serious risks that climate change poses to human health. It suggests a pathway for policy makers at all levels to prepare for the health impacts of climate change.

Both the AMA and the Academy of Science hope it will be a catalyst for the Federal Government to show leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year.

Not only does the report outline a case for policies to mitigate climate change, but it is also a call to action for all Australian governments to prepare for the health impacts of climate change. Policies and institutions must be in place now to ensure that Australia can adapt to the health consequences of climate change — these phenomena are inevitable.

As the climate warms, and we experience more extreme weather events, we will see the spread of diseases, disrupted supplies of food and water, and threats to livelihoods and security.

The health effects of climate change include increased frequency of extreme weather events such as heat waves, flooding and storms. In Australia, we are already experiencing weather extremes with prolonged drought and bushfires in some areas, and severe storms and floods in others. Not only can these cause illness and death, but there are significant social impacts as well.

Climate change will dramatically alter the patterns and rate of spread of diseases, rainfall distribution, availability of drinking water, and drought. International research shows that the incidence of conditions such as malaria, diarrhoea, and cardio-respiratory problems is likely to rise.

The Academy of Science recommends that Australia establish a National Centre of Disease Control to provide a national and coordinated approach to Australia's response to climate change.

Such a centre would prioritise research and data collection to better evaluate and anticipate where the burden of disease from climate change would have the greatest effect, and be able to respond accordingly.

Doctors and other health workers need to be informed by sound, up-to-date data. For example, we need to know when a disease that is traditionally found in tropical regions has moved south.

This will allow health authorities to plan and allocate health personnel and services to deal with changing patterns of disease.

All these events will affect the health of Australians and the health of the people in other countries in our region.

We are already seeing forced migration of people from areas, such as in the Pacific region, that are no longer habitable or productive. As forced migration increases around the world, there will be conflict and threats to food security and sustainability.

Nations must start now to plan and prepare.

If we do not get policies in place now, we will be doing the next generation a great disservice.

It would be intergenerational theft of the worst kind — we would be robbing our kids of their future.

The Australian Academy of Science Report, Climate change challenges to health: Risks and opportunities is available at


Published: 25 May 2015