Our National Health Strategy is just a ‘duplicitous’ distraction for fossil fuel support, says DEA.
Climate is getting its moment in the spotlight in the wake of the first ever Health Day at this year’s UN Climate Conference, COP28, with the announcement of Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy.
But it’s worthless without a promise to put a plug in fossil fuel investment, DEA executive director Dr Kate Wylie told The Medical Republic.
“This strategy adopts a health-in-all-policies approach, recognising the interconnectedness between the health of humans, animals and the environment,” she said.
“For the government to truly realise this vision, it needs to stop making the problem worse.
“Australia has approved new coal mines with an additional 110 more gas and coal mines in the pipeline.
“The Australian government must stop its two-faced approach to climate action and phase out fossil fuels if it’s serious about protecting lives.”
The strategy, announced yesterday in Dubai, outlines a “whole-of-government plan” to build a health sector that can cope with the health challenges climate change poses, and cut emissions.
Speaking to TMR, RACGP climate and environmental medicine groups chair Dr Catherin Pendrey said the strategy should facilitate a climate-resilient and environmentally stable health sector, and help cut health sector emissions, which currently stand at 7% of Australia’s total.
Dr Wylie added that she hopes the government’s recognition of the impact of the climate on healthcare will galvanise health professionals to action.
“The health sector is Australia’s biggest employer … for this strategy to work on the ground, we’re going to need buy-in from health professionals,” she told TMR.
“[Doctors] wouldn’t ignore chest pain.
“We don’t ignore risk factors like smoking, so let’s pay attention to the risk factor that is fossil fuel combustion.
“Let’s pay attention to the greatest health problem facing humanity.”
Without a turn around on fossil fuel support, the strategy serves as a “duplicitous” distraction technique, warned Dr Wylie.
“It’s very upsetting that our government on one hand pays lip service to a positive thing – the National Climate and Health Strategy – but on the other hand is expanding gas and directly contributing to the problem,” she said.
“That’s not responsible action in my mind.”
The lead up to COP28 saw a pre-emptive light shone on climate actions within health – including the tabling of Independent ACT Senator David Pocock’s Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity Bill.
Should it pass, the proposed changes to the Climate Change Act would require the government to consider the wellbeing of young people when making decision that could have a significant effect on greenhouse gas production.
The RACGP has thrown its weight behind the bill.
“I hope that our parliamentarians can support the proposal that the wellbeing of children be considered in decisions about proposed new fossil fuel projects,” Dr Pendrey told TMR.
“Ignoring the health risks of new fossil fuel projects in terms of pollution and contribution to climate change would be dangerous for children and future generations.”
Dr Wylie said DEA backed the bill 100% – after all, doctors had a “duty of care to look after the health of children in this country” – but she feared it wouldn’t win government backing.
“It’s a private member’s bill, so unless the government supports it, it’s not going to happen,” she said.
Dr Wylie encouraged GPs to use their gift of the gab to “write letters, call, make phone calls or visit their elected representative” in support of the bill.
“Every day, we talk to people from all walks and walks of life … we can talk to politicians too,” she said.
“We don’t have to be intimidated by them.”
Dr Wylie added that GPs already do great, low climate work by keeping patients out of the most carbon-intensive part of the healthcare system – hospitals – and cautioned against climate action “putting any increased load on the already overburdened shoulders of the GP business community”.
But, she added, there were other easy tricks to cut carbon in general practice.
“We know that big chunk of the carbon footprint of general practice comes from our prescribing habits,” she said.
Prescribing medication with a lower carbon foot allows climate action “just by the stroke of a pen”.
The AMA published a One Health position statement on Saturday also calling on the government to end the approval of new fossil fuel projects and has released a statement in support of the duty of care bill.
“We’re hearing the same thing from all the experts — we must act now if we want a world habitable for generations to come,” said AMA president Professor Steve Robson in the media release.