Queensland health workers have united to launch a roadmap towards better preparation for the health-related impacts of climate change

The Queensland Government-funded Human Health and Wellbeing Climate Change Adaptation Plan (H-CAP), launched by Health Minister Steven Miles, is aimed to be a first step in formulating a coordinated approach by the health sector to build resilience and reduce emissions in health, aged care and childcare services.

Coordinated by National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) and the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), H-CAP involved consultations with 200 people via regional workshops, an online survey and key stakeholder interviews across the state.

The roadmap includes 10 priority actions:

  1. Leadership and governance—empowering leadership at all levels to plan and implement responsible, evidence-based, locally relevant climate change adaptation.
  2. Building the preparedness and ability of the health and wellbeing services sector and the community to respond to climate threats to health.
  3. Specific public health measures—evaluating specific vulnerabilities in the population and implementing appropriate measures to reduce avoidable morbidity and mortality.
  4. Risk management and legal liability—ensuring the operational and strategic plans of all facilities and services acknowledge and reflect the short-, medium- and long-term risks of climate change to health and wellbeing services.
  5. Research, data and evaluation—guiding policy and decision-making through well-planned research and climate-health risk surveillance to build greater understanding of risks, vulnerabilities and effective strategies.
  6. Economics and financing—ensuring that financing decisions to support climate change related programs and initiatives include assessment of all the relevant health costs and benefits associated with climate change and adaptation.
  7. Collaboration across agencies, sectors and stakeholder groups—ensuring that government agencies, peak bodies, and industry and professional associations and service providers work together to achieve climate change adaptation and sustainability goals.
  8. Education and communication—developing communication, education and training initiatives that inform and build capacity across the health and wellbeing workforce, policymakers and the wider community to respond to the health impacts of climate change.
  9. Policy, regulation and legislation—providing policy certainty for services, sectors and industries to guide decisions and investment for effective climate change adaptation.
  10. Infrastructure, technology and service delivery—investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, technology and service design to avoid delayed costs and ensure service integrity.

“The health of all Queenslanders is under threat as the impacts of climate change grow increasingly severe,” says Dr David Rissik from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.

“This plan will ensure the healthcare sector is ready to manage the risks that come now and in the future.

“The most vulnerable members of the community such as the elderly, infirm or very young are particularly at risk to extreme weather events and health impacts like heat exhaustion and the spread of infectious diseases.

“The health sector is responsible for seven per cent of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions – this plan also addresses Queensland’s contribution to emissions which is around 21% of the national total.”

The Public Health Association of Australia welcomed the launch of the plan, but warns that the Federal Government is dragging its feet on climate policy.

“Australia, like most countries, is largely unprepared for the threats that climate change poses to human health through extreme weather events, drought, resource depletion and increased disease outbreaks,” says Dr Peter Tait, Co-Convenor of the PHAA Ecology and Environment Special Interest Group.

“The H-CAP is a clear strategy to support human health and wellbeing services in climate adaptation and to implement public health measures to respond to climate change. This is the direction in which any discussions on national climate policy should be heading.

“If we are to respond to the health impacts of climate change, it is critical we consult with those who understand them best: health professionals and environmental scientists,” Dr Tait said.

“For too long, climate policy has been viewed as something to be handled entirely by politicians who most often lack the necessary expertise on this complex issue.”

“The reality is we are already beginning to experience some of the health impacts of climate change. It is critical we act now to start addressing these issues, and the states and territories should be supported at the federal policy level to do so.”