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Australia’s top medical body has labeled climate change a “health emergency.”

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) now joins the likes of the American Medical Association and British Medical Association in declaring that "climate change is real and will have the earliest and most severe health consequences on vulnerable populations around the world.” 

AMA president Tony Bartone delivered the critical motion during the association’s federal council Tuesday.

Bartone explained that climate change would see an increase in severe weather events, the spread of infectious diseases to Australia’s shores, and declines in national agricultural output — which could lead to food insecurity and higher rates of mental illness.

"The federal council recognizes climate change as a health emergency, with clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future," Bartone said on Tuesday. "These effects are already being observed internationally and in Australia. There is no doubt that climate change is a health emergency.” 

The AMA motion comes off the back of major studies linking climate change to declines in human health.

The Lancet published a report in 2018 which showed climate change caused an increase in the number of people experiencing extreme heat exposure, which subsequently increases the risk of mental health issues, heatstroke, and heart and kidney disease. 

Hilary Graham, a doctor and professor at York University, co-led the report and said “trends in climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerabilities show an unacceptably high level of risk for the current and future health of populations across the world.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) concurs, claiming that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will likely cause a further 250,000 deaths each year due to malnutrition, malaria, heat stress, and diarrhea. 

In 2015, the WHO labeled climate change “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.”

Australian doctors are now using the motion to call on the government to make swift changes to address climate change.

The association has suggested the federal government incorporate mitigation targets on carbon, establish a national strategy for health and climate change, promote the health benefits of tackling climate change, and develop a body to reduce carbon emissions in the health care sector.


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Australian Medical Association Declares Climate Change a ‘Health Emergency’

By Madeleine Keck