My name is Jo. I am a local paediatrician, a member of Doctors for the Environment and a mother to two little girls. I am writing with regard to the Councils’ response to climate change and declaration of a climate emergency and I would like to know your position on the issue.
If you are undecided, as a councillor, you are ideally placed to become acquainted with the emerging data detailing some of these concerns, to act in the interest of our long term community health.
As a doctor and mother, on both a professional and personal level, I see climate change as the greatest threat to human health in the current century. Positively, responding to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century,” as declared by the Lancet commission on Health and Climate Change in 2015. (see reference)
I have watched with interest the increasing number of governments, at all levels, who are declaring Climate Emergencies. These include the UK, Scotland, and in recent times the local governments around Australia. The drive for this is clearly gaining momentum, as more and more sectors of government see the urgency of the situation. Like many Australians who care about the planet, I was dismayed by the re-elected government’s reluctance to prioritise this issue and their lack of vision for a more sustainable and healthy Australia. If the Federal Government continues to pursue their grossly inadequate emissions reduction targets, and approve further fossil fuel projects, we must turn to other levels of government for leadership on this issue.
Councils can play a leading role in responding to climate change by setting safe climate goals and targets, implementing local programs, lobbying state and federal governments, and encouraging other councils to do the same.
Many others are more equipped to speak to the consequences of inaction on climate change upon biodiversity, habitat loss, sea level rise, etc. In my role as a paediatrician, I feel it is important to express to you, one of our counsellors, the real and important effects of climate change on our children, both locally and globally.
The impacts of climate change on child health are summarised in a report published by the Doctors for the Environment Australia, “No time for games: Children’s Health and Climate Change.” And the updated “No time for Games, it’s time to act. Summary Report Update 2018.” (see links attached)
Science tells us climate change is already leading to increasing temperatures and more extreme weather events, and is affecting sea level rise, patterns of rainfall and ice cover, and the behaviour of ecosystems. Such changes have a wide range of health impacts that will increase as CO2 levels rise, and our children are the most vulnerable in our community.
As a doctor, I am increasingly concerned about the health effects in Australian children of more frequent and severe droughts, floods, bushfires and heatwaves, which we are now witnessing, and climate change-related alterations in the spread of infectious diseases, air pollution and triggers to allergic diseases and asthma.
What is more terrifying as a doctor, however, is that climate change will increasingly threaten the fundamental foundations of children’s health - clean air and water, adequate food, control of infectious diseases and social and economic stability.
These changes are already occurring in many countries and Australia is not immune to such effects in the future. In fact, Australia is one of the most climate vulnerable countries of the developed world with the largest percentage rise of death attributable to extreme weather events in the developed world over the past 20 years. The continued use of coal, gas and oil causes significant harm to children, directly via air pollution and indirectly via the above mechanisms.
We have a moral responsibility to assist the children of the world and a vested interest in maintaining geopolitical stability. Globally climate change is already causing the deaths of 400,000 people per annum and 88 per cent of the burden of disease due to climate change falls on children under the age of five.
Research shows a link between excessive heat and childhood emergency department attendances for diseases such as asthma, fever, gastroenteritis, and electrolyte imbalances. There is evidence that exposure to extreme heat during pregnancy is related to premature birth.
Climate change affects children’s mental health. Mental and emotional distress documented for children and adolescents following weather disasters include post-traumatic stress disorder and higher rates of sleep disturbance, aggressive behaviour, sadness, and substance abuse.
Flooding can have comprehensive health effects on children. These include drowning and near-drowning, injury, hypothermia and electrocution, exposure to diarrhoeal disease, skin and soft tissue infections, mosquito-borne infections, and can aggravate allergies and asthma attacks in children due to mould exposure.
The current global increase in childhood asthma could be partly explained by increased exposure to allergens in the air driven by climate change. 93% of the world's children currently breathe polluted air and live in areas that exceeds WHO's ambient air pollution (PM2.5) air quality guidelines.
It is very likely that there will be an increasing burden of disease in Australia requiring attention from general practitioners and hospitals due to injury or psychological trauma from extreme weather events, infections and illness due to ozone and bushfire air pollution. Our health system infrastructure or resources can themselves be directly affected by climate change, potentially limiting their ability to provide care. In the heatwave prior to the Black Saturday bushfires, 25 per cent of all hospitals had problems with their air conditioning or cooling systems.
Climate change amplifies inequity both in Australia and globally, so people already at greater risk of ill-health are likely to suffer disproportionately more of the negative health consequences, compared to those who are better resourced and/or have easier access to health, economic, and social services.
As a doctor I make daily decisions on whether to start treatment based on the available evidence. In the case of climate change we have more than enough evidence to act. We therefore must speak up on behalf of our children, who cannot take action themselves, yet whose health will be the most affected.
Children are the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, are least able to influence action on climate change, and yet they will be exposed to its impacts for the duration of their lifetimes. Not only do children have the most to lose in terms of present and future health, and quality of life standards, but they will also inherit a world which has been diminished in terms of resources, safety, and opportunity, unless effective swift action is taken to address our climate change emergency and protect their future.
By acting now to address climate change and its environmental and health consequences, we can build a healthier, more connected and resilient community.
Making a climate emergency declaration would go some way towards reassuring the community that as our elected representatives, you care about the future of our planet and the safety of the environment our children will inherit. I call on you and your colleagues to move to declare a Climate Emergency in your Shire.
We ask our councillors to implement a municipality-wide climate emergency response, in which the council:
• Publicly acknowledges the climate emergency
• Reviews the Council’s strategic plan
• Creates a foundation for climate emergency action
• Implements a climate emergency plan
I would be pleased to speak to you and your fellow councillors at a council briefing if you would like to discuss this matter further.
Thank you for looking further into the issue and making decisions prioritising regional population health and long term environmental management. I look forward to your response.
Watts N, Adger WN, Agnolucci P, et al. Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. Lancet 2015; 386: 1861–914. Accessed at https://www.thelance...IIS0140-6736(15)60854-6/fulltext?code=lancet-site
Doctors for the Environment Australia Inc. ‘No Time For Games’, 2015. https://www.dea.org....thy-people-dea/
Doctors for the Environment Australia Inc. ‘No Time for Games - Summary Report Update 2018’
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2014: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Accessed at