Better Futures Forum Australia was held recently on 17 August 2021, and climate champions across various sectors discussed the path to a healthy and resilient Australia in the climate and health breakout room.
The speakers in this room include Prof Kathryn Bowen, Deputy Director of Melbourne Climate Futures and Lead Author of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Fiona Armstrong, our Founder & Executive Director, Meaghan Scanlon MP, Queensland Minister for Environment, and Dr Omar Khorshid, President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
Prof Kathryn Bowen started by emphasising that "the IPCC has been warning us for decades [about the climate crisis]. We heard, but didn't listen." She highlighted that warming leads poorer health outcomes, while climate action will lead to better health outcomes and prevent millions of deaths. The climate crisis also leads to mental health crisis, as Australians are 3 times more worried about climate change than COVID-19. The most important point is that emissions reduction is needed now.
Dr Barb Vernon, CEO of Women's Health and Child Health Australia, also offered insight into why she believes strongly in climate action to protect health. She declared that there is currently an enormous rise in mental ill health in children & young people at children's hospitals, especially a marked rise in suicide ideation and eating disorders requiring hospital admission. “There’s a key opportunity for Australia to play a lead role in climate. The future should be one in which our children and young people feel optimistic that they can have the same quality of life that we’ve had,” she said.
Next, Dr Omar Khorshid announced that the AMA has joined other health organisations around the world in declaring a climate health emergency. He explained that it's hard to call for government action when healthcare's footprint is growing. AMA's current policy was released in 2015 and made a strong argument for climate action on health grounds: "We make clear recommendations to government, active transition to renewables, implement a climate and health strategy, and communicate climate health to the public. We want to see a National Sustainable Development Unit, a centralised unit which coordinates Sustainable Healthcare action across the country. We've also joined the Green Hospitals network."
He also expressed that as a doctor, the IPCC report, being filled with words we now expect like "unprecedented" and "extinction", is a terrifying message. "There is plenty we can do. We can prep for risk we can't avoid, and mitigate what we can. Listen to science, as in COVID", he suggested. AMA is proud to be standing alongside groups working on climate and health like Doctors for the Environment Australia, CAHA and Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association.
Lastly, Meaghan Scanlon MP shared a long list of renewable energy projects in Queensland. She emphasised that we need to talk about climate action in terms of economics, as jobs and climate action go hand in hand.
There were a lot of enthusiasm in the climate and health breakout room. Fiona Armstrong, CAHA Executive Director, also talked about how collaboration is crucial for the health sector to tackle the climate crisis. CAHA is proud to have 70+ groups working together to guide climate and health policy and advocate for strong climate action.