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Experts urge governments to follow health advice on climate, as they did with Covid

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Leading Australian health practitioners, including former chief medical officers, have called on the Morrison government to prepare a new ‘National Strategy on Climate Change, Health and Well-being’, saying governments should listen to health experts, just as they did for the Covid-19 pandemic.

A group of 30 health professionals gathered at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday to issue the joint call to the Morrison government, saying that climate change represented an “urgent” health emergency that required a coordinated response.

Among the health professionals who travelled to Canberra were two former state chief health officers, whose currently serving contemporaries have played a central role in guiding the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Former Queensland chief health officer emeritus professor Gerard FitzGerald, who served in the position between 2003 and 2005, said the Morrison government should be heeding the advice of health experts when it came to climate change, in the same way it has informed its response to the pandemic.

“Politicians have turned to Chief Health Officers to steer them through the COVID-19 health emergency. Today we are asking them to keep listening to the advice of leading health voices and swiftly act on the health emergency of climate change,” FitzGerald said.

Former Tasmanian chief health officer Dr Roscoe Taylor, who retired from the position in 2015, said that it was becoming increasingly clear that climate change posed a significant threat to the health and well-being of Australians as its impacts worsened.

“Over my 30 years working in public health, I have witnessed the rising harms and costs of climate change. Unless all governments, and particularly the federal government, takes health advice seriously, the preventable harms of climate change will only worsen and more people will lose their lives or suffer ill-health,” Taylor said.

The calls have been coordinated by the Climate and Health Alliance, a peak body that represents a range of professional health associations, and which describes the growing impacts of climate change as an “urgent health emergency.”

The alliance published a framework for creating a National Strategy on Climate Change, Health and Well-being in 2017, based on consultation with a wide range of health experts, which found there was a lack of leadership at a federal level on responding to the worsening health impacts being caused by climate change.

“Health leaders have come to Parliament today to urge politicians to recognise climate change is a health emergency that requires their urgent action,” Climate and Health Alliance Executive Director Fiona Armstrong said.

“Health leaders don’t use the term ’emergency’ lightly. Across the country, doctors, nurses and health practitioners are already treating the health impacts caused by worsening climate change.

“We call on all Parliamentarians to support developing a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being in order to protect our health and secure the many health benefits associated with climate action,” Armstrong added.

Australian Greens moved a motion in the federal senate on Tuesday, calling for the development by the government of a “National Strategy on Climate Change, Health and Well-being,” in line with the recommendations of the Climate and Health Alliance and the health experts who visited parliament.

The motion was passed by the senate, without opposition from government senators.

A Harvard led research study published in February estimated that as many as 8.7 million people died in a single year as a result of fossil fuel linked pollution, triggered primarily by air pollution.

Last year, a group of scientists, researchers, and medical professionals published research that suggested as many as 800 people suffered premature deaths each year directly as a result of pollution from coal-fired power stations.

According to the world health organisation, an estimated 2.65 million people have died as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, including 909 who have died in Australia.

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