Climate change battle ahead for healthcare

·2-min read

While treating people for a rise in climate change-related diseases, injuries and mental distress, the Australian health sector will also have to cut its own significant greenhouse emissions, experts say.

Professor Mark Howden, a leading climate change researcher from the Australian National University, says healthcare is responsible for about seven per cent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

"To put that in context, our whole electricity system generates about 30 per cent, so it's a significant part of the emissions profile," Professor Howden told the National Rural Health Conference in Brisbane on Wednesday.

"Reducing those emissions is crucial in the healthcare sector, as it is in other sectors."

Professor Howden said if the world "lets climate change rip", there will be a multitude of health impacts, including kidney and heart problems from heat stress, food and water insecurity, and declining mental health.

He called for early warning systems for health services in the event of climate disasters, better documentation of climate-related deaths, and community plans for heatwaves.

Climate and Health Alliance chief executive Roland Sapsford said rural Australia has a vested interest in climate action.

"People in rural Australia know all too well the impact of droughts, extreme heat, floods and fires," Mr Sapsford told the conference.

"You also have firsthand knowledge of the way these burdens fall most heavily on those already burdened by low incomes, racism and economic insecurity.

"Rural Australia is also often the first hit by the impacts of climate disaster."

But he said climate change draws attention to our common humanity.

"We're all in this together," he said.

"While the way in which individuals and nations are engaged by climate change is profoundly affected by the many inequities which plague our world, we all share a common destiny on this fragile blue orb."

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