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Monday, December 4, 2023

Launch of Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy at COP28

Ged Kearney MP, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, launched Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy at the United Nations climate Conference COP28. 

The Strategy lays out a plan to manage the health impacts of climate change, reduce the carbon footprint of the health system, promote the health co-benefits of emissions reductions, and to collaborate internationally to build sustainable, climate-resilient health systems and communities.

This is the first COP where health is a major theme. 127 nations, including Australia, have now signed a COP28 Declaration on Health and Climate.

Video of the launch undertaken at the Australian Pavillion at COP28:

The Strategy released today signals a shift in Australia’s approach to climate change, both domestically and internationally, said Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) CEO, Philip Cornish.

Mr Cornish said, “We congratulate the government on fulfilling its commitment to develop a National Health and Climate Strategy. Its launch on the global climate stage today demonstrates the legitimate shift in Australian climate policy over the past 18 months.”

“CAHA, its members and its allies should be commended for their persistent advocacy over a decade. This is a huge step forward to protect our health from climate change.”

CAHA Strategic Director Remy Shergill said, “Australia’s health sector is deeply committed to serious climate action. We see climate change right now in our communities, our hospitals and health facilities. The health impacts are broad and insidious, from bodily harm to smoke inhalation, from infectious disease, to mental distress, and more.

“The implementation of the Strategy could not come a moment too soon.

“For the Strategy to protect health, we must see commitment to ambitious governance and the roll out of funding for its implementation. We look forward to continued work with the Commonwealth Government on climate and health issues impacting all Australians.” 

The Minister's Foreward concludes:

Our health is dependent on the health of the environment. The Strategy addresses the interconnectedness between the health of humans, animals and the environment by adopting a One Health perspective. It also recognises the relationship between health and the environment by emphasising the need to elevate the leadership, wisdom and knowledge of First Nations people in the response to the health impacts of climate change. For tens of thousands of years, First Nations people have adapted to different climatic extremes. Tackling the health impacts of climate change requires us to rethink our relationship to the planet. It is vital we look to First Nations people’s holistic understanding of health and ongoing custodianship of the land and seas as we work toward building a healthy and sustainable future for all.

This Strategy reaffirms our Government’s strong commitment to genuine action on climate change, and further commits us to reduce the health system’s contributions to climate change and outlines clear action to adapt to climate change.

The Strategy sets out 4 specific objectives, and here I quote from the Executive Summary:

Objective 1 (Health system resilience) is to build a climate-resilient health system and enhance its capacity to protect health and wellbeing from the impacts of climate change – to ensure the health system provides high quality, equitable, and culturally safe care, and supports healthy communities in a changing climate. Key actions are to:

  • Support and facilitate health-climate risk assessment and health adaptation planning at all levels of the health system.
  • Work in partnership with First Nations stakeholders to address the impacts of climate change on the health of First Nations people.
  • Build a climate-resilient health system that can deliver equitable, high-quality care in a changing climate.
  • Strengthen health system preparedness, response and recovery for climate-related disasters and extreme weather events, in particular by strengthening the role of primary care.

Objective 2 (Health system decarbonisation) is to build a sustainable, high-quality, net zero health system – to minimise environmental harm caused by the health system and contribute to the achievement of Australia’s overall emissions reduction goals. Key actions are to:

  • Establish regular reporting of health system greenhouse gas emissions, so progress in reducing these emissions can be tracked over time.
  • Develop a health system decarbonisation roadmap, and as part of this negotiate an emission reduction trajectory for the health system.
  • Reduce health system emissions by reducing demand for care, by keeping people healthy and by ensuring appropriate, equitable delivery of care and tackling unwarranted variations.
  • Decarbonise care delivery by tackling key sources of emissions: the built environment and energy; travel and transport; medicines and gases; food and catering; waste and resource use; and the supply chain.

Objective 3 (International collaboration) is to collaborate internationally to build sustainable, climateresilient health systems and communities – to identify opportunities for knowledge sharing and the development of international standards as well as highlight the ways in which Australia can support its neighbours to protect and promote health in their climate change responses. Key actions are to:

  • Work with health systems in comparable jurisdictions to align approaches to:
  • Procurement policy – to support decarbonisation of health system supply chains.
  • Measurement and public reporting of environmental impacts of health technology products.
  • Join the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health.
  • Consider options for including health-related action in Australia’s next Nationally Determined Contribution under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, due in 2025.

Objective 4 (Health in all policies) is to support healthy, climate-resilient and sustainable communities through whole-of-government action which recognises the relationship between health and climate outcomes – taking a Health in All Policies approach by promoting the health co-benefits of emissions reductions across society and adaptation action beyond the health system to protect health and wellbeing from climate change. Key actions are to:

  • Tackle the health impacts of rising heat and air pollution through collaborative action with states and territories.
  • Support healthy, sustainable lifestyles through work on the National Dietary Guidelines and promoting active travel.
  • Promote the health benefits of climate-resilient housing through input to the National Housing and Homelessness Plan and updates to the National Construction Code.
  • Mobilise collaborative responses to climate-sensitive communicable diseases, as well as climate-related psychological distress and mental ill health.

Doctors for the Environment: one step more needed: end fossil fuels

In a media release Doctors for the Environment applauds the strategy while arguing the Government needs to take one step more: the rapid phase out of fossil fuel coal and gas, and to start stop approving any new coal or gas project and the transition to renewables.

DEA’s executive director and GP, Dr Kate Wylie, says:

“Coal, gas and oil are the primary drivers of global heating and climate change–the greatest health threats facing humanity. 

“Yet, Australia has approved new coal mines with an additional 110 more gas and coal mines in the pipeline. We are also one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel exporters. 

“The Australian Government must stop its two-faced approach to climate action and phase out fossil fuels if it’s serious about protecting lives. 

“Our health is already at the mercy of our warming planet so there is no time to delay. On the back of other record-breakers, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has stated that this year is set to be the warmest on record. 

“The impacts of climate change are devastatingly obvious. Doctors are already seeing the detrimental impacts of heatwaves, fires and smoke, floods and extreme weather events on our health and know that it is time to not only prepare for the impacts of climate change on health but to also reduce emissions.

“The Strategy adopts a Health in All Policies approach, recognising the interconnectedness between the health of humans, animals and the environment. To truly realise this vision we must stop making the problem worse, we must quit coal and gas for the health of people and planet.”

Global Health and Climate Pledge

127 nations have now  endorsed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health (PDF). Climate Action Network ECO newsletter (ECO 5) comments on the Health Declaration:

The Declaration makes clear that a healthy climate action must include and go beyond the health sector. It describes the importance of health finance and partnering with communities, but doesn’t go quite as far as naming the ultimate addiction and greatest threat to human health - fossil fuels. Human rights are a glaring omission, despite the right to health already being recognised in the Paris Agreement and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment embedded in the COP27 cover decision.

A total of 1 billion USD for climate and health was pledged during yesterday’s WCAS Health Segment, with the potential to propel much needed action. If this climate finance is to truly serve health, ECO hopes that the majority is new and additional finance — not diverted from other climate, health and development priorities — and that it will be based on grants, not loans, to avoid reinforcing vicious cycles of debt, poverty, and disease.

So what next? Words about health will do little sitting on the pages of the Declaration. All 125 signatory Parties must lift them off the page and into the negotiations. The outcomes of COP28 can only be healthy with ambitious climate action across the negotiations. No health justice without climate justice - no health without climate action. This must include the phase out of all fossil fuels and a just transition to affordable, accessible, healthy, renewable energy; the adoption of thematic targets and indicators under the GGA - including for health - to show where gaps in adaptation exist and to protect the world from pandemics; the transformation of food systems including through healthy and sustainable diets; and climate finance, including a capitalised loss and damage fund.

Australian Medical Association calls for no new fossil fuel projects

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) released a statement on 2 December calling for No new fossil fuel projects, no fossil fuel money in politics. The AMA also called for an end to donations from the fossil fuel industry to political parties and for fossil fuel subsidies to be transitioned to renewable energy. 

“The AMA recognises climate change is a health emergency, with clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for humanity right now, and worsening into the future,” Professor Robson said. 


Department of Health and Aged Care, # December, 2023, National Health and Climate Strategy

Climate and Health Alliance, 3 December 2023, Australia launches first National Health and Climate Strategy at COP28

Doctors for the Environment, 4 December 2023, The National Health and Climate Strategy is an important step, but to protect lives we must quit fossil fuels

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