Peak medical groups, representing most of Australia’s doctors and health experts, have issued a joint call to on prime minister Scott Morrison to embrace clean energy and strong climate action as part of the government’s response to Covid-19, saying the health of Australians would be better off.
The joint letter has been co-signed by groups representing more than 75 per cent of Australia’s doctors, and was coordinated by the Doctors for the Environment. The letter argues that the world is in the midst of two global health emergencies and that both Covid-19 and climate change will have lasting health impacts.
Signatories to the letter include Australian Medical Association, which represents around 90,000 of Australia’s general practitioners, emergency room doctors, physicians, obstetricians, and psychiatrists, which have called on the government to accelerate a transition away from fossil fuels, which are contributing to worsening health outcomes for Australians.
Other signatories include the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine and the College of Intensive Care Medicine.
“Climate change is a public health emergency – it is already having a real life impact on patients across Australia, the devastating bushfires and hazardous smoke last summer being just one example,” RACGP spokesperson Dr Lara Roeske said.
Many of these workers are currently engaged on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic, and have called on prime minister Scott Morrison to seize the moment to incorporate climate action as part of Australia’s economic response to the pandemic.
“Right now, we have an incredible opportunity to act on climate change and invest in a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous future,” Doctors for the Environment member Dr Kate Charlesworth said.
“That future should not include gas. Gas is a fossil fuel causing climate change, and driving the kind of bushfires we saw decimate so much of Australia during the recent Black Summer,”
The letter argues that action on climate change would help to avoid worsening health outcomes for Australians, pointing to the widespread impacts of bushfires over the 2019-20 summer, which killed 33 people directly due to fires, and has been attributed to more than 400 indirect deaths due to the impact of smoke inhalation.
“The 2019-20 ‘Black Summer’ bushfires claimed 33 lives, while associated smoke engulfed our cities for weeks causing respiratory, cardiovascular and ocular complications. The smoke resulted in over 1300 presentations to emergency departments with asthma, more than 3000 hospitalisations for heart and lung problems and 417 excess deaths. The mental health impacts of the bushfires are likely to be present for decades,” the letter says.
“Redirecting funds from fossil fuel subsidies towards the production of renewable energy would produce cleaner air, significantly reduce emissions and power an economic recovery. A shift to active transport and public transport powered by electricity would also markedly improve air quality, as would moving to private electric vehicles.”
The doctors call on the Morrison government to direct economic stimulus measures towards supporting increased investment in clean energy technologies, including renewable energy and electric vehicles.
The medical groups added that investments that improve access to green infrastructure like walking, cycling and other public transport services could deliver public health improvements.
“While our Federal Governments direct their resources to tackling the global pandemic in front of us right now, during the recovery phase we need to turn our focus to the public health crisis that is being caused by climate change,” Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) spokesperson associate professor Linda Selvey said.
“It’s vital that climate change and its impacts on public health are central to the Federal Government’s COVID-19 recovery plan. This must include action to reduce our carbon emissions through investment in greener, cleaner energy sources and active and public transport infrastructure, which will also bring health benefits through reduced air pollution and increased physical activity.”
The joint letter issued by Australian medical organisation follows a global call from more than 350 international health professional organisations, representing more than 40 million health workers, for a “healthy recovery” to the Covid-19 pandemic, which must include investments in green infrastructure.